An update from the WCCA

Posted by kelli.little on December 3, 2015

By: Pete Obermueller, WCCA Executive Director

So the trouble with the blog format of newsletters is that it’s way too easy to push writing these posts down on the priority list.  In some ways that's good because it means there are so many projects in the queue that taking time to write about them is on the back burner.  However, as I write this, I'm heading to Casper for the WCCA Board Retreat where Commissioners will be thinking carefully about the strategic direction of the WCCA for the next five years.  It occurred to me that now is probably a good time to reflect for a few minutes on what we've been up to at the WCCA in recent months.

As the WCCA continues to grow in both revenue and projects pursued, the amount of time staff spends simply ensuring that the Association itself is soundly managed has increased significantly.  The WCCA is the Commissioners' Association, and the strategic direction must be developed by Commissioners.  But as the Executive Director, the buck stops with me to ensure that the operation is a smooth running machine.  I have been surprised at how much of my time is spent on management decisions that keep us running on all cylinders.

Apart from those necessary but sometimes tedious management details, we have prioritized very important initiatives on behalf of counties.  First and foremost has been the ongoing effort to build better relationships with state legislators and state agencies. This takes time and can't be forced.  In my second year at this job I’ve pivoted from visiting county courthouses to attempting to visit legislators and agency heads and staff as much as possible.  This was helped by the fact that we had issues of importance to counties in almost every interim committee this year.  I spent numerous hours preparing for testimony ranging from county roads, to emergency response, local cyber security and 911 systems, public health nursing, Title 25, mineral taxation, historic horse racing and much more.

Perhaps the most important of these efforts has been our attempt to hold the line as much as possible on local government revenue-sharing with the state, and to keep the legislature moving forward on a reasonable and comprehensive approach to the study of local government revenue and distribution methods.  The $90 million in Governor Mead's budget request for the next biennium is difficult to swallow, but because of the efforts of the WCCA's executive leadership, that number is higher than it otherwise would have been.  Collectively we can try to push it up further.

We have also been hard at work on initiatives that benefit not only county officials, but also the entire state.  Our recent publications—the County Snapshot and the Public Lands Handbook—have garnered much interest.  The ongoing socioeconomic initiative and the just released Wyoming Public Lands Initiative will both have lasting effects on Wyoming, but will require constant attention from WCCA staff and Commissioners.

Speaking of attention from Commissioners, I am repeatedly asked to recommend Commissioners to serve on boards, commissions, and task forces.  I won't list them all here, and I don't have the data to back it up, but I'm reasonably certain that more Commissioners are serving in statewide positions than ever before.  Each of these requires some level of staff support.  Additionally, both Commissioners and staff are active with our regional western counterparts through the Western Interstate Region.

Finally, we remain very engaged on issues at the federal level.  We have filed substantive comments on several rule proposals at federal agencies including comments to the EPA on Waters of the U.S., the Department of the Interior on the proposed Stream Protection Rule, and the Fish and Wildlife Service proposed rule to improve the way species are petitioned for listing on the Endangered Species Act.  Commenting in meaningful ways is an extremely time consuming endeavor.  There are many more federal rules that warrant our attention, but this is an area that suffers from lack of staff capacity.

I've gone on too long.  That's the result of not being more intentional about writing updates like this more often.  A goal of mine in the third year of my work as Executive Director is to use this format more often to keep you all up to speed on the work we're doing.  This is particularly important in light of a new strategic plan set in place over the next two days in Casper.  In addition, I plan to reprise my visits to all 23 counties to stay informed about all the issues important to you in your neck of the woods.