Monday, December 6, 2021

Edmondson: Local control is important and in danger

Dianne Edmondson, Precinct 4 County Commissioner

As local elected officials, your County Commissioners and municipal council members are the office holders closest to you. Their actions affect you the most of any legislative body and they are the easiest for you to contact.

After all, their offices are near your home and you probably run into them from time to time at a local store or restaurant, maybe even attend church with them. You can look up their office phone and email online, and may even have their home or cell phone numbers.

In other words, it’s easy to let them know if you approve – or more importantly, if you disapprove — of their actions. That’s known as accountability and it’s much easier to promote it from those officials who are closest to you… your local officials. Virtually every political figure knows that local control is important to provide the services, events and outcomes that the public wants.

Last session, about 7,000 different pieces of legislation were introduced in Austin. These dealt with everything from public education to transportation to licensing roofers to regulating texting to legalizing marijuana and hundreds of other topics.

Some of those bills have a direct impact on your local officials’ ability to serve you, their constituents, as you want to be served. In many cases, very different counties are treated identically by the legislature. For instance, larger growing counties such as Denton County have very different needs and issues than smaller more rural counties. Growing populations such as we have here in Denton County present different challenges than those for a county whose population is declining.

You, the residents of Denton County, are more aware than are the lawmakers in Austin of how you want your local elected officials to deal with our local issues. You deserve our attention to your concerns and needs, and during the biennial legislative session, we would have a virtually impossible job of analyzing the thousands of bills which are introduced each legislative session and which could directly affect our abilities to work for you!

During the 140 days of a regular legislative session, hundreds of committee meetings and dozens of general sessions are held, many concurrently. There is simply no way that your local officials can – or should — take time from their regular jobs and head to Austin to monitor the progress of bills which will affect their local constituents back home.

So how do we handle this daunting task? By joining professional associations, such as the Texas Association of Counties, the Council of Urban Counties, Texas Municipal League, and other similar professional groups such as those for county and district clerks, tax assessors/collectors, elections administrators, district attorneys, sheriffs, police and firefighters, etc. As each of those associations identifies proposed legislation which would affect its members– either positively or negatively – the association notifies its members, provides data regarding the legislation and encourages the individual members to contact their own state legislators to express their opinions. The associations are the conduits of important information.

Additionally, these associations provide the annual mandatory training that is required by law for many of your local elected officials. These training and best practices sessions are very valuable, enabling your local officials to be more knowledgeable about local issues and more responsive to their constituents. Most professions have similar associations: doctors, lawyers, human resources people, CPAs, teachers, etc.

Yet, despite the good information and the time-saving analysis they provide, a few legislators want to prohibit your county or municipal officials from joining those associations, and indeed also prohibiting your officials from even attempting to build relationships with state legislators!

These actions would be absolutely contrary to the core values of Texans. Rather, they are instead part of an effort to silence the voices of local leaders, who are chosen by their constituents at the ballot box, to work together on behalf of the taxpayers who expect them to promote their interests and get results in Austin.

This proposed legislation claims to be “taxpayer protection and good governance,” falsely claiming that local governments go to Austin for the sole purpose of raising taxes. In fact, most of our concerns in Austin have to do with saving tax money by requesting adequate funding for the legislative mandates (such as providing lawyers for indigent criminals) and asking for more state funding for roads and bridges. Loss of those contacts via this legislation could actually cost public entities more of taxpayers’ money and valuable time away from their communities.

Without these associations, for example, your elected officials would have to find another way to review about 7,000 bills, analyze them for potential impact on their respective counties, communicate with legislators sitting on relevant committees, and be present to testify when each problematic bill is considered in committee – sometimes with notice given just minutes before a hearing.

It makes no financial or logical sense for all county judges, commissioners and other county elected officials vainly to attempt to keep abreast of all pertinent legislation, and then travel to Austin to convey support or concerns. Your local elected officials urge citizens also to utilize associations to which you may belong to track legislation and “lobby” your legislators with your viewpoints on the proposed bills. (Use this link to follow legislation of interest to you: capitol.texas.gov/Resources/FollowABill.aspx)

We are committed to full transparency on how your tax dollars are spent. Accountability, embodied in the form of the ballot box, provides the most transparent way for you, as local taxpayers, to ensure that you can measure results and hold your leaders accountable for how we spend your public funds. Your Denton County elected officials communicate to our legislators on your behalf and also encourage individual citizens to weigh in with their state legislators. (Use this link to find your State Representative or State Senator: wrm.capitol.texas.gov/home)

Strong partnerships between business, community, and political leaders have been the foundation of Texas’ economic success. Local leaders and elected officials have historically enjoyed a mutually cooperative advocacy model that supports their citizens, creates jobs, and protects the quality of life in the cities and counties we all call home.

Let’s remember that “all politics is local” and how important it is to keep local control strong and vibrant here in Texas.

CTG Staff
The Cross Timbers Gazette News Department

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