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Continuing education contributes to success of elected officials

By Debbie Wise, AAC Board President, Randolph County Circuit Clerk

In a nutshell, the Association of Arkansas Counties’ (AAC) mission is to serve as a one-stop shop for county and district officials seeking information, and to work for the improvement of county government in Arkansas. The AAC accomplishes that mission by providing legislative representation at the state Capitol, assistance and research, and training.

For newly elected officials, it may seem that the AAC’s largest focus is on legislative advocacy. After all, the General Assembly’s 2019 regular legislative session began at the start of your term and wrapped up only a few short months ago. There has been much to discuss about the session, so many of the communications you have had with our AAC staff has centered on the session.

But training — or continuing education — for county and district officials is just as much a priority. I can’t stress enough how lucky we are to have such outstanding programming at our disposal.

In 2011, the AAC created its in-house continuing education program. The ACE Continuing Education Program receives high praise from those who attend the sessions, held around the state for six affiliate organizations three times a year. Those who do not attend the meetings may not realize what they are missing.

During each legislative session, the General Assembly appropriates funds to the Auditor of State to carry out “the responsibilities for maintaining and operating a continuing education and certification program” for county judges, circuit clerks, county clerks, treasurers, collectors and coroners. The appropriation for the 2019-2020 Fiscal Year was $75,000 for each of those groups (see Act 23 of 2019).

The Arkansas Sheriffs’ Association is charged with training sheriffs, and the Assessment Coordination Department provides continuing education for assessors. Those agencies receive appropriations to conduct their meetings, as well.

Justices of the Peace do not have a formal continuing education program. However, they reap the benefits of attending the annual AAC conference as well as their individual 75-member annual meeting staffed by AAC — and the first-rate programming provided.

Continuing education meetings have a propensity to grow stale. But the two ACE Coordinators the AAC has employed since 2011 — Brenda “Emmy” Emerson and Karan Skarda — have strived to offer new ideas, new locations and fresh speakers to keep attendees excited and engaged.

Karan — and Emmy before her — has taken the education of our affiliate organizations to a higher level. June is undoubtedly the busiest season for continuing education meetings. Karan will have orchestrated six association meetings by the end of June, but her work begins long before the meetings. She searches for appropriate meeting spaces in the counties where our officials would like to meet. She oversees registration — both for county officials and sponsors/exhibitors. She works with each group to create and finalize meeting agendas. She’s always on the lookout for new and interesting speakers and activities, and she works tirelessly to resolve any obstacles county officials may experience during the registration process and during the meetings themselves. She wears a lot of hats, and she answers to a large number of county officials. I appreciate her and the effort she puts into our meetings because those meetings are valuable tools in shaping the success of our county officials.

Many of the county officials who have excelled in their careers and within their organizations participate regularly in these meetings. The meetings offer good information and access to mentors who are more than happy to lend their time and knowledge to others. The process of mentoring benefits the teacher as well as the student.

So I urge all our county officials to take advantage of the continuing education programs the AAC offers. I have benefitted immensely from these meetings, and I know you will too.

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