The NACo Western Interstate Region (WIR) Conference brings together county officials from across the nation to focus on pressing issues facing counties and our residents. Each year the conference is hosted by a county within the fifteen Western states—Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawai’i, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington and Wyoming—and provides attendees with the opportunity to interact with federal, state and regional policymakers, participate in educational sessions and take home tools to address challenges.
The following report was submitted by Gordon Cruickshank, Valley County Commissioner. Cruickshank serves as the NACo Representative on the IAC Board, as well as the Western Region Representative on the NACo Executive Committee.
Tuesday, May 14th
I attended a Mobile Workshop to visit the A to Z Forestry Project on the Colville National Forest. This project is a pilot project after years of a Collaborative working to find common ground on forest management to reduce fire risk and utilize all the tools available. Along with this workshop was a tour of the Vaagen Brother’s Colville Sawmill to showcase the technology found in a sawmill today to increase efficiency. By using computers they read the logs and boards to determine the correct use of the product produced.
There was also another Mobile Workshop at the same time for folks to tour the Grand Cooley Dam and Power generation facility which is the largest Power Plant in the United States.
Wednesday, May 15th
My day started with a brief attendance for the Western Interstate Region (WIR) Board of Directors. I learned of a Commissioner in South Dakota who has been in the position for 45 years.
My next meeting was to attend the National Association of Counties (NACo) Finance and Audit Committee meetings. Here we heard presentations on our financial health and how the expenses were paid out correctly.
At noon the NACo Executive Board met to again review the Audit and Finance reports before being provided to the Full NACo Board of Directors. We also reviewed the NACo Blueprint which is what NACo’s future looks like today. We also discussed staff changes and new hires. Our meeting ended with an evaluation of NACo’s Executive Director’s performance this past year.
Next I sat in on a Border Counties discussion on Environmental concerns of Raw Sewage and other toxic pollutions coming into the United States from Mexico. Efforts by Border Counties and NACo are working to help find solutions to this issue.
Tonight I attended a NACo/WIR Board of Directors Reception.
Thursday, May 16th
The morning started with the WIR Opening General Session. Washington Representative Cathy McMorris/Rogers welcomed us to Spokane County with a video.
Next we heard from James Hubbard, Undersecretary for Natural Resources and Environment, USDA. Mr. Hubbard spoke on the doors opened by Secretary Purdue to do more work on the ground on National Forests with Active Management. He also spoke on how locals know their areas and the need to listen more to local government. Collaboration must have counties at the table to be successful. He also spoke on Stewardship and Good Neighborhood Authority to assist in the Active Management. Fires will continue however we all can do better at pre planning efforts to know how to respond.
Then we heard from Kim Wyman, Secretary of State, for Washington. Ms. Wyman spoke on Elections and keeping elections secure. She mentioned that election security has been ongoing for many years and isn’t just something new. With newer technology it allows better data to watch for any activity that is changing with elections.
Our final speaker today was Rob Curley, Editor of the Spokesman Review. Mr. Curley spoke on his career starting email news and how he ended up at the Spokesman Review which is one of the top ten recognized local newspaper in the United States. Mr. Curley said this is a result of having the Spokesman Review be a local news outlet and striving to contain more local news of the region than most papers on a daily basis. He works with what he calls the 5 P’s. Passion, Practical, Personal Communication, Playful and Pleasure. He likes to think they are one of ten newspapers doing it right.
I then attended a workshop on Affordable Housing, Natural Disasters and More. In this workshop a panel discussed the housing crisis being seen all across the landscape and how communities are attempting to address the issue.
Additionally there was discussion on earthquakes in Hawaii, Fires in Utah, Water Quality and changes in Market Value of properties as a result.
How to plan for Disasters was also discussed and how counties can be a leader in getting the conversation started.
It was also mentioned that a home in Seattle with a market value of $740,000 was selling for $900,000.
Many municipalities were reviewing their land ownership and discovering they could assist with the housing needs. Also some big box stores closing provide a facility that already has a commercial kitchen which might be used to house folks in a dormitory style facility.
At noon during the Attendee Luncheon the speaker was Colonel Derek M. Salmi, Commander, 92nd Air Refueling Wing, Fairchild Airforce Base, Washington. Colonel Salmi explained how the Refueling Wing operates to maintain the Fleet of Air Force Planes that helps protect the United States 24 hours a day and every day of the year.
My next meeting was the NACo Full Board of Directors meeting where the Audit and Finance reports were presented with projected results keeping NACo in the Black. We approved moving the Parks, Open Space and Trails group in with the Healthy Counties Advisory Committee.
Brian Namey, NACo’s, Chief Public Affairs Director spoke on the next three years of NACo Annual Conferences being in Clark County, Nevada, Orange County, Florida and Travis County, Texas, reviewed proposed future NACo Annual Conference locations beyond three years and approved negotiations to start with counties wanting to do NACo Annual Conferences.
We heard a report from NACo President, Supervisor, Greg Cox, from San Diego, County, CA. on his term of office and visiting many states.
We had a report from NACo Executive Director Matt Chase on the NACo Blueprint and how working for the NACo Membership drives the focus of NACo and doing more with technology. He also spoke on member engagement and how many NACo Counties are involved with committees which helps show the commitment that NACo is listening to the members on what their needs are. The new TestIT app is telling the story of broadband is not as good as Industry claims. Working with the National Sheriff’s Association on Jail Inmate Health Care and who should be paying for the care.
We had a Federal Policy update by Deborah Cox, NACo Deputy Assistant Director and NACo Legislative Director which informed us of 101 new Elected Officials in Congress. Over the last 5 years one half of the members in congressional seats changed. There are 78 former county officials in Congress. Last year 4,000 bills were introduced and only 16 passed. There will be another round of Whitehouse visit requests for Counties and States for those who have not attended prior. Infrastructure legislation is being discussed for many areas and some legislation is expected to expire prior to new authorization and expect to see short term extensions.
On the Broadband TestIT app 7,500 people have provided 50,000 tests which many show the coverage is not up to FCC standards for Broadband needs. NACo continues to work on many front for counties including Secure Rural Schools and Payment in Lieu of Taxes, Child Welfare Reform, State and Local Tax deductions, Waters Of the US and Over Time changes to name a few.
New Projects and Initiatives report was provided by NACo’s Chief Innovation Officer, Cheryl Burnett on Grants that are continuing and new grants found that is part of NACo’s ongoing work products.
Tonight was the WIR Annual Conference Wide Event held in the Spokane Conference Center.
Friday, May 17th
This morning was the WIR Annual Business Meeting and Election of Officers. Today we elected Kevin Cann, Supervisor, Mariposa County, CA. as WIR President, Greg Chilcott, Commissioner, Ravalli County, MT. as WIR 1st Vice President, Mark Whitney, Commissioner, Beaver County, Utah as WIR 2nd Vice President and now Tommie Cline Martin, Supervisor, Gila County, AZ. as WIR Immediate Past President.
A General Session was held next where the Installation of Officers was completed.
We then heard from Joe Balash, Assistant Secretary for Lands and Minerals Management, U.S. DOI. Mr. Balash spoke on the need to restore the trust and relationships, streamlining the NEPA process, recognizing the economic growth in rural America is changing, simplify land use decisions and work with the tools we have available. Good management of Public Lands is needed, working with energy companies to find ways to locate alternative energy sources such as wind and solar, confusion of ESA by agencies when we need to be working off the same page.
Next we heard from Roger Millar, Secretary of Transportation, the State of Washington. (Of note Mr. Millar was a former McCall, Idaho, City Planner) Mr. Millar spoke on the Green House Gases created by vehicles, how access by transportation provides opportunities, the aging staff of Washington DOT and no young folks coming forward to fill the positions. Hybrid vehicles are part of the future in many areas where they can be utilized, to meet the current demand on repairing roads the Federal Fuel Tax would need to double, nobody likes the idea of Vehicle Miles Tax, Congestion Pricing or Toll Roads but it is the tools we have other than fuel taxes. Good discussions are needed to determine the funding is being used correctly.
Kirk Pearson, Washington State Director, USDA Rural Development and John Graham, Director for Region 10. U.S. Health and Human Services Administration provided a panel discussion on Opioid Addiction and how each agency is working with others to address the issue. They spoke on when a person loses a job how this leads to depression and then drugs become involved. Better data collection is needed to help understand the real issue to help find the best solutions. USDA Rural provided a monthly Guide to Grants and Programs that may fit with your county or community and check with your USDA State Director.
At the end of the General Session I was honored to receive the WIR Dale Sowards Award. The Dale Sowards Award is to recognize individuals who have demonstrated outstanding service to Public Lands Counties and to draw attention to their accomplishments and the Public Policies they represent. This award was named after former Conejos County, Colorado Commissioner Dale Sowards, who was instrumental in the creation of the Western Interstate Region and was a long-time advocate for Public Lands Counties.
I then attended the NACo Board of Directors Orientation to review what a NACo Board member is expected to do for the membership. We reviewed the NACo Blueprint again and discussed why NACo exists to assist with being the voice of counties across the United States. All conversations start with member engagement to understand the issues counties face.
Well that wraps up my attendance at the 2019 NACo WIR Annual Conference this year. Thank you for allowing me to represent Idaho on the NACo Board of Directors.