Counties build AI framework to harness its potential, bolster protection

More than a dozen people involved in county administration and governance are working to figure out the future opportunities for counties and artificial intelligence

By: Charlie Ban
National Association of Counties

When Peter Crary left his job helping to develop software to read license plate numbers, he thought his days working in the nascent field of artificial intelligence were over.

He figured in his new role as senior manager of technology at the Texas Association of Counties, he would be working on much more practical matters, dealing with TAC’s immediate equipment and networking needs. He was glad to be wrong.

Now he’s one of the county leaders taking the initiative to figure out how to harness the potential of artificial intelligence and protect counties from its worst outcomes. Crary is a member of NACo’s AI Exploratory Committee, which will meet over the next year-plus to determine a way forward with technology that could revolutionize service delivery, for better or worse.

He’s helping to figure out what 2026 looks like. Or even 2024.

“When Chat GPT kind of took off, all of a sudden AI applied to different areas that TAC would have never earlier gotten involved in fully. All of a sudden, it’s all in the forefront, it’s in the news. It’s everywhere.”

Crary recognizes that the nature of AI development may be too fast for the committee to be too prescriptive, so he wants to set a framework to help counties properly vet applications for the technology.

“I’m worried that a county will get itself into a contractual agreement they find may not be favorable,” he said. “I really do hope that we can give them guidance on what to do. If we can at least build guardrails and educate them on how to build the policies, what vendors are looking for, these are the questions you should ask.”

The committee membership spans the spectrum of county government, including state association personnel like Crary, elected officials like Alameda County, Calif. Supervisor Keith Carson, specialists like King County, Wash. Chief of Staff Shannon Smith or appointed administrators like Peoria County, Ill. Administrator Scott Sorrel.

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