Smith takes on national leadership, ties it to local issues

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 28, 1999

After 27 years in county-level government, Gene Smith is taking on a national role.

Wednesday, July 28, 1999

After 27 years in county-level government, Gene Smith is taking on a national role. Recently named president of the National Association of County Administrators, the Freeborn County administrator is stepping up to lead about 550 members in his profession for the next two years.

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It’s something he’s looking forward to.

&uot;It’s thrilling,&uot; Smith said. &uot;It’s exciting.&uot;

He said it’s an opportunity to make an impression on his profession and provide benefits to himself and the county, as well as others across the nation.

The local benefit, he said, comes from the networking involved between the hundreds of county administrators. He said nearly every member has a unique experience that could help another county.

&uot;That’s kind of the crux of the value for my constituency here and for myself,&uot; he said.

While the role as president is a challenge he’s been anxious to tackle, it came sooner than expected. Before a recent NACA conference, Smith had expected to be named president-elect, the next in line for the top office. But, the planned president stepped down, and Smith was elected to fill the position two years early.

While it came sooner that expected, he said the presidency didn’t just drop out of the sky for him. He’s been a member for 15 years and served as state president for the Illinois association, as well as a regional vice president and national secretary/treasurer.

With a steady progression through the ranks, Smith said he found out about the recent change before the convention, so it wasn’t too shocking.

&uot;It’s not added pressure,&uot; he said, noting he’s been playing a large part in restructuring the national organization, which has affiliated itself with two similar organizations – the International City/County Management Association and the National Association of Counties.

Smith said they are affiliations that will benefit both NACA and Freeborn County since both provide new insights into government operations and management.

&uot;It’s given us a greater bank of resources to draw upon in attempting to serve local government – county – managers,&uot; he said.

Smith also noted the long histories of the two organizations will benefit the 30-year-old NACA.

Still, he said some of the traditional elements of the national organization have the largest benefits locally.

During each national meeting – three are held a year – county administrators gather for an &uot;idea exchange.&uot; During the meeting earlier this month, 45 administrators gathered around a table for six hours, talking about everything from health care to security and how state and federal regulations affect local government.

Smith said the exchange of ideas is what offers Freeborn County the biggest benefit of his involvement with the national organization.

As an example, Smith points to on of the county’s hot topics.

&uot;I was able to ask questions about rural addressing,&uot; he said. Through various conversations, he was able to discover how large and small counties dealt with the issue and what challenges they faced.

He said that discussion also led to advice on hiring a Global Information Systems coordinator, something commissioners have asked for.

All of it works to help his daily work, as well as the county, said Smith.

&uot;I guess it makes my job easier. I don’t have to think about reinventing the wheel,&uot; he said of discussions with other administrators. &uot;They help me avoid pitfall and build new things.&uot;

All of that means he can do a better job for the county.

But, he also aims to provide benefits for counties nationwide.

As an administrator in a rural county, he said his goal is to encourage participation in NACA’s rural membership.

&uot;The organization’s office holders have tended to be dominated by members from large counties,&uot; he said, noting that those individuals have more time and resources available.

Yet, he said the smaller counties also need the resources the national organization can provide. In fact, he called some of the information &uot;crucial&uot; to rural local government. So, he plans to spend part of the next two years developing ways for counties to access the information.

To help with the effort, the organization has a regular newsletter filled with information and a directory for members to contact each other.

&uot;It all comes back to that networking, resources and new ideas,&uot; he said.