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County officials praise AgriLife Extension conference


Elected county officials who attended a recent one-day conference organized by the Texas AgriLife Extension Service say the annual event provides a rare opportunity to network and discuss topics unique to their roles and responsibilities.

The District 12 Continuing Education Conference for County Officials was held Dec. 5 at the Embassy Suites in Laredo, according to Dr. Ruben Saldana, AgriLife Extension district administrator.

"This has become a very popular event for county officials in South Texas," Saldana said. "Of the 20 counties invited to attend, 18 registered and 15 were able to attend."

The conference was the second such annual event for this region; the first was held in 2007 at South Padre Island.

"There's really no secret to organizing a meeting that elected county officials look forward to," he said. "We survey them ahead of time and provide timely information on topics they tell us they want to learn about. We also provide the continuing education credits they need each year to satisfy the state's requirements."

Jim Bassett, a Live Oak County commissioner, said he had intended to leave the gathering early, until he heard the discussions. He ended up staying for its entirety.

"I have to confess," Bassett said, "that I was just going to get my hours (continuing education credits) and slip out after lunch. But the topics were so interesting and pertinent that I just had to stay. The panel discussion by the county judges was excellent, as were all the speakers and presenters. It was all relevant information. It wasn't just a meeting where we pat each other on the back; this was information I could use."

The panel discussion Bassett referred to was for many the highlight of the day, Saldana said. Five South Texas county judges led a lively discussion on their roles and experiences in managing recent emergency situations, including a hurricane, a tornado and flooding. They also discussed AgriLife Extension's role in emergencies.

The panel of county judges included Carlos Cascos, Cameron County; J.D. Salinas, Hidalgo County; Raul Ramirez, Brooks County; Jose Aranda, Maverick County; and Emilio Vera, acting Willacy County judge.

Salinas said the conference and this panel discussion in particular helped participants build relationships and allowed them to learn from each other.

"Disasters impact regions, not just individual communities," he said. "We learned from Hurricane Dolly and other recent emergencies just how critical it is for us to work with surrounding counties in order to successfully respond to a major disaster. By working together we are better able to help our communities in an emergency. Good communication, as well as our ability to share critical resources with other area officials, makes a difference when seconds count."

Other topics addressed at the conference included human resources issues, ethics, risk management and a legislative update by state Rep. Richard Raymond of Laredo. Raymond discussed priorities of the upcoming legislative session and how they could impact local governments.

"It's all about relationships and learning from each other," Salinas said. "It's nice to have everybody in the same room. It's a rare chance to get together, and for me it was an opportunity to personally thank those county officials from San Antonio, Laredo and elsewhere for the help they provided Hidalgo County during Hurricane Dolly."

Saldana said there are many to thank for the success of these AgriLife Extension conferences.

"Many individuals and organizations helped, but we owe a great deal of gratitude to Webb County Judge Danny Valdez for hosting this event in his county and making all this happen," he said.

The conferences have become such popular events, Saldana said several counties have volunteered to host next year's conference.

"This has quickly evolved into a very successful event," he said. "Thanks to everybody's cooperation, we've created a cozy atmosphere where county officials can meet and network with their neighbors, not have far to travel and attend at a very low cost. They earn the continuing education credits they need and best of all, they learn how to better serve their constituents."

5 Star OK\10-B

Date: 12/30/08

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