Tarrant County Precinct 1 Commissioner Roy Charles Brooks, outgoing president of the National Association of Counties (NACo), presided over the group’s 93rd Annual Conference and Exposition in Nashville, Tennessee, July 13-16.
This event, which is the nation’s largest gathering of county leaders, attracted more than 3,000 elected and appointed officials, public and private-sector partners and guests to discuss and adopt NACo’s federal policy agenda for the coming year and to exchange best practices.
During his year in office, Brooks said, he leveraged his leadership position to expand the organization’s focus from being primarily on capital projects such as roads and facilities to become human-driven projects.
“This week was for me to celebrate a successful year as NACo’s president. It was a successful year because we accomplished what we set out to accomplish,” he said. “We set out to change the conversation and culture within NACo, for an organization, that while it did social service things, was primarily focused on capital infrastructure such as roads, bridges, airports, seaports, hospitals and jails.”
He said he was able to instill within the culture of NACo that, in his words, “Counties are people, too. We have to focus as much on our human infrastructure as much as we do on our capital infrastructure.”
Brooks described his initiative as “serving the underserved,” through which counties are addressing generational poverty and shining the light on how they address poverty.
He believes the county level of government has a tremendous opportunity and responsibility to address the needs of all residents and make sure no one is left behind.
Brooks said that in the past, each NACo president had basically a one-off agenda. To get some synergy and continuity, Brooks and the new president, Greg Cox of San Diego County, California, plan to work with the following president “to see if we can get a third year of focus on human infrastructure. That action, in itself, will be powerful in changing county policy.”
He recalled a quote from his father, which he has claimed as his personal mantra: “Service is the rent we pay for the air we breathe.”
NACo has invested time and resources during the past year in partnering with the Children’s Defense Fund to make children smarter, safer, more successful and more secure.
Brooks introduced Marian Wright Edelman, CDF founder and president, for the final general session. She addressed the county role in raising America’s next generation.
NACo’s new focus is on helping develop a way to provide opportunity and save money on health care, welfare and incarceration to pay for the capital costs that each of these initiatives will require.
Brooks also awarded four-year college scholarships to two students he selected from his community. Mercedez Saldana, a graduate of the Young Women’s Leadership Academy, will attend Texas Christian University, and Michael Matthews Jr., a graduate of the Young Men’s Leadership Academy, will attend the University of North Texas.
When asked whether this cause has become a sense of ministry and how he might move it forward, Brooks said he hopes to remain a Tarrant County commissioner, which he describes as the best job he could have.
“It’s far easier to work within this platform and secure three votes to pass a bill than it is to work with 434 others in Congress or 99 others in the U.S. Senate. This is where I need to be.”
– John Fletcher, for the FWBP