Last week the National Association of Counties held their annual convention in Richmond. It was the first time they had come to Virginia — even though they are headquartered in the District of Columbia.
The driving force behind that coup was Mount Vernon District Supervisor Gerald Hyland. An active Board of Directors member of NACo since 1991, having served on or chaired nearly every committee of that organization at one time or another over his 16 years of service, Hyland pushed for the 2007 convention to be in Richmond with a vote seven years ago.
"I wanted it here in Virginia this year to coincide with the State's 400th Anniversary Celebration. I lobbied hard among my other 124 Board members and it passed without objection," Hyland said during an interview upon his return from the convention.
According to the Richmond Convention and Visitors Bureau, that four-day event, with its 4,000 attendance, pumped an estimated $4.2 million into the Richmond and State economy which, in turn, benefits all Virginians in a myriad ways as it filters into the overall economic engine. But that was only a trickle of what benefits occur to Fairfax County and Mount Vernon District through Hyland’s involvement in NACo.
One of the most financially beneficial returns on that involvement comes from NACo's Financial Services Corporation (FSC) and its U.S. Communities Purchasing Program. As NACo's for-profit arm, FSC saves Fairfax County alone an estimated $1.3 million per year in the purchasing of janitorial supplies, office furniture and technology products and solutions. Overall the program offers 18 categories available for joint purchasing.
"This year we estimate the Communities Purchasing Program will save county governments nationwide as much as $220 million on purchases totaling $1.4 billion," said Steve Swendiman, managing director, FSC.
"Gerry was very instrumental in getting the purchasing program off the ground. He was on my Board when we created it. He has always been a strong advocate for collaboration among all entities within the NACo structure," Swendiman said.
AS THE FOR-PROFIT ARM of a non-profit organization, NACo's Financial Services Corporation pays taxes on its generated income. However, with increased buying power, through an estimated 27,000 public agencies, it can bring significant savings to not only large counties, such as Fairfax, but also much smaller one who would not have the bargaining power delivered by FSC.
"NACo reached out to Office Depot to provide discounts to Counties in the purchase of an array of supplies. That discount can reach up to 40 percent. And a portion of that saving accrues back to the counties," Hyland said.
"It has been extremely beneficial for both local government and school districts. The NACo contract is Office Depot's largest," he said.
Hyland has also been instrumental in developing NACo's public employee benefits programs that applies to both active and retired employees. This year there are an estimated 390,000 public employees at the local government level in the retirement program, according to Swendiman.
One particular benefit which Hyland has strongly advocated is a prescription drug program that can be utilized by the residents of any county participating in the program. "The NACo discount card provides a 21 percent reduction in the cost of prescription drugs to county residents regardless of what other prescription drug program they may have," said Larry Naake, NACo's executive director.
"Unfortunately, Fairfax County residents have not been able to participate in this so far because first the State Legislature had to pass its approval to let the county do this. That has now been done and Gerry is working to get this implemented in Fairfax County," Naake said.
"Gerry's involvement with NACo has been very effective for our overall membership and consequently has gained a lot of visibility for Fairfax County nationwide. Fairfax County has been the recipient of five to 10 of our National Recognition awards each year for its leadership," he said.
"By our participation in the U.S. Communities program we help many other smaller counties to save and this, in turn, helps us. We also participate in NACo's deferred compensation program for our employees," said Kathy Muse, director, Department of Purchasing and Supply Management, Fairfax County.
"Another big benefit to NACo involvement is the fact that it's a great place to network — to solve problems and gain from the experiences of others who may have had some of the same problems. It's a definite knowledge pool for problem solving," Muse said.
THROUGHOUT HIS YEARS of NACo involvement Hyland has served as chairman of their Finance, Audit, Investments, and Programs and Services committees to name just a few. He has been on the latter for the past six years.
"The Programs and Services Committee gives us the authority to look at all the things in that category we bring to our members. One of the things we did most recently, which I have been pushing for, is the creation of a Leadership Manual for county supervisors," Hyland said.
"One of the items I've had a real thing about is for [NACo] to develop a strong reference library on our Web site. Another is to develop a peer network that is able to identify individuals with specific expertise in given areas. That was created five months ago and it has been very successful. This committee has allowed me to develop a wide variety of services for counties," he said.
"I've developed a reputation at NACo as the one who raises the hard questions. It has not always made me the most popular. I ran for president of NACo in either 1993 or ’94. I won 38 of the 46 states that are members and still lost," he said. Not all states have counties. Therefore not all states belong to NACo.
The reason he lost, according to Hyland, is that the large states control the election. He won all the smaller states but lost the big ones with the most delegates.
When asked if he would try to be elected president again he was emphatic. "Definitely not. Not at this stage of the game. I'm very happy working on programs and services that benefit our members and thereby Fairfax County and Mount Vernon District."
Several years ago NACo honored Hyland by planting a magnolia tree outside his office in the Mount Vernon Government Center. It is thriving and well rooted in the soil of Mount Vernon District. That could also be said for its recipient.