COLUMBUS — Julie Ehemann, Shelby County commissioner, joined more than 2,500 elected and appointed county officials to participate in the 82nd National Association of Counties (NACo) Annual Conference and Exposition, where attendees adopted positions on pressing federal policies affecting counties and worked collaboratively to identify innovative solutions to challenges facing American communities. The conference was in Columbus from July 21-24.
“As a member of the Agriculture and Rural Affairs Policy Steering Committee, I am able to work with leaders from all over the country to develop and support priorities that make a difference to our community,” Ehemann said. “During the conference we supported policies provided by USDA in regards to GMO regulations and disclosure, and to preserve programs and funding for Rural Development under the U.S. Department of Agriculture.”
Several workshops and meetings addressed counties’ role in public safety, public health and economic development. NACo President Bryan Desloge, commissioner, Leon County, Florida, recapped his yearlong initiative highlighting innovations in county government.
The Counties Matter Challenge: Brilliant Ideas at Work was a friendly competition to identify and disseminate the most compelling county policies and programs around the country that are truly making a difference in residents’ lives. The top 100 were honored at the conference.
“People always hear about when government makes a mistake but don’t often hear about the vast majority of county efforts that are success stories truly making a difference in people’s lives,” Desloge said. “NACo’s annual conference was the perfect venue to recognize the ways counties are keeping our communities healthy, safe and vibrant.”
NACo’s conference, held in a different county each July, provides opportunities for county leaders and staff to learn, network and guide the direction of the association’s national advocacy efforts.
There were more than three dozen educational workshops that explored topics including natural disaster resilience, reducing the number of mentally ill individuals in jails, smart technology deployment and the opioid epidemic.
Delegates also heard a talk on criminal justice reform from Piper Kernan, author of “Orange is the New Black,” who reminded attendees that, as the places where justice involvement often begins, “Counties are the most important players in the criminal justice system.”
Other notable speakers included U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, renowned mountain climber Ed Viesturs, Lou Dobbs of Fox News Business, federal leaders from NASA and the Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Rep. Joyce Beatty, R-Columbus, 3rd District.
Ehemann participated in several workshops including “How Census 2020 and your County Data Matter to Your Bottom Line” and “How to Effectively Control Active and Retiree Health Care Costs Through Population Health Management”.
“It was great to have a national conference so close to home and I was able to gain insights into various topics including the opiates crisis, rural poverty, and strategies to improve health in rural communities”, Ehemann said.
Conference delegates discussed federal policy and legislation on a wide range of key topics like transportation and infrastructure; rural and urban development; energy, environment and land use; public safety; emergency preparedness and response; housing and community development; health and other topics.
At the conference’s conclusion, county leaders adopted the American County Platform, which sets NACo’s policy advocacy direction for the coming year.