Dear NACo member:
I am excited to announce my candidacy for NACo 2nd Vice President.
County governments are facing unprecedented challenges on the front line of critical public health and safety efforts and the National Association of Counties (NACo) is a critical resource for us. I’ve dedicated my time, energy, and passion to service and believe that my strengths make me uniquely qualified to lead us through this together.
I grew up as the second oldest of six children (4 brothers and 1 sister) in Falcon Heights, MN, home of the beloved Minnesota State Fair. Our parents taught us the importance of listening, learning, caring for each other, and the power of a positive attitude! I am proud to represent the community where I was born and raised.
With over 25 years in elected office – 16 years as a Minnesota State Legislator and starting my ninth year on the Ramsey County Board, I’ve had the opportunity to talk with and listen to people all across the country. I have learned that, whether you are from a rural, urban, or suburban community, we want and need resilient, vibrant, and healthy counties. We are all in this together!
I am passionate about education and have spent much of my life teaching and leading civic education and engagement efforts. This experience has taught me that to get the best outcomes, people of all backgrounds and all viewpoints must have the opportunity to participate and use their voice. During this past year we have learned the importance of connecting in new ways, and broadband is critical to our success in ensuring access for all. This is the backbone of our democracy.
My extensive participation in NACo and my own state association has fueled my passion for what counties do, including public health, public safety, parks, roads, and libraries. My focus has always been on seeking and implementing solutions that improve the lives of others and that is why I am running for NACo 2nd Vice President. I look forward to working with you, so that together we can achieve our common goals. Please call or write if you have any questions.
I look forward to connecting with you in the coming months!
I ask for your support!
Mary Jo’s Answers to the NACo Candidate Questionnaire
Why are you interested in serving as a NACo officer?
The opportunity to make a positive difference in people’s lives is what inspires me everyday. And being able to work with others throughout the country in these efforts makes it that much easier and rewarding. I believe in NACo and the good work we do and I want to be in a position to help make it grow and thrive! With over 24 years in elected office – 16 years as a Minnesota State legislator and 8 as a Ramsey County (MN) Commissioner, public service is my passion and my purpose. I feel especially fortunate to be working now at the County level as counties are on the front line of our crucial life-saving public health and safety efforts. We operate as both a safety rail (prevention) and safety net, and get the job done! What has become clear through my work as a Commissioner is how incredibly valuable NACo is to us as policymakers and problem-solvers on behalf of the people we serve. I have benefited greatly from NACo and I will work to ensure that it continues to be a strong resource, advocate, and ally for local governments and communities for years to come. As a NACo officer, I will also work to grow our membership and enhance engagement and participation, reaching out to ensure that people of all viewpoints and backgrounds have a voice.
NACo is an essential partner in building strong county governments. It helps educate county commissioners about evolving issues and trends and maintains critical networks for us to share best practices. My involvement with NACo has allowed me to be better informed and therefore make better decisions for my community. It has also allowed me to help commissioners from other parts of the country learn from our experiences in Minnesota.
What do you consider to be your most important contribution to the National Association of Counties to date? What do you consider to be your most important contribution to your state association of counties?
One of the most important contributions anyone can make to NACo is to show up and participate in the work. I feel that I do this with passion, energy, and a positive attitude! I fully engage in NACo meetings and conferences, always thankful that NACo recruits some of the nation’s top leaders to work with us. I am an active member of the NACo network, building relationships with fellow commissioners and policymakers, sharing information, solving problems, and advocating for issues throughout the year.
I am especially proud of the work I did in NACo leadership positions including serving as Chair of Healthy Counties in 2018-19; County liaison with the Pritzker prenatal to 3 grant partnership, Vice-Chair of Programs and Services and Vice-chair/member of Justice and Public Safety Committee and subcommittees. These leadership experiences gave me the opportunity to advocate for issue exploration and development in many crucial areas including the social determinants of health; early childhood development; prevention and early intervention; criminal justice reform; and relevant content and training opportunities for our NACo membership.
I am also an active member of Association of Minnesota Counties (AMC) – my state association. I attend the conferences, participate on multiple committees and am honored to have been elected to serve as AMC President in 2022. Much of our work in AMC, as with NACo, is focused on bringing people with diverse backgrounds and viewpoints together to work toward common goals. We have been doing this important work using initiatives like “Bridging the Divide” and “Braver Angels”. Our goals are to connect, explore possibilities and collectively solve problems through a thoughtful, inclusive process. With AMC and NACo, the more involvement and participation we get from our counties and partners, the stronger we will be. I am dedicated to the continued growth and success of NACo and all of our State Associations.
What do you consider to be the two or three most important challenges facing NACo in the near future on which the Officers/Executive Committee/Board of Directors should focus? Why?
Three key challenges for NACo that leadership must focus on are:
- Increasing Membership and Engagement: Our members are a critical resource for sharing ideas, advocating for county needs, and developing innovative policies as with broader representation from all counties, we can have a stronger voice. We must increase the participation of all our partners. Our ability to impact State and Federal policies depends on strong relationships with local governments and non-profit partners. Likewise, our financial stability depends on expanding our for-profit and premier partners and the services and programs of the Financial Services Corporation.
- Restoring our Partnership with Congress and the Administration: NACo must work to ensure that we have a strong working relationship with federal agencies, Congress and the White House, with an emphasis on identifying common goals and promoting open communication. We also need to continue educating them on the expansive role that counties play and how we can help each other to collectively better serve our citizens.
- Bringing America Together: We are a country of many diverse viewpoints and backgrounds. I will work to help us focus on the values that we share as we have always been stronger when we work together. Counties can lead the way by modeling our “residents first” focus and coming together for the benefit of everyone we serve. We must critically examine our systems and structures for inequalities, some of which were built in, and work toward positive change and equitable and just outcomes.
What measures would you recommend to increase and retain NACo membership and to encourage broad participation in NACo by elected officials and employees of NACo member counties? What specific role would you be willing to assume to help build and sustain membership in NACo?
I am proud of the fact that Minnesota is a 100% state as all of our counties are members of both AMC and NACo. At AMC, we do our best to help everyone realize the benefits of NACo membership and participate in NACo events. I work hard to educate and recruit members to be contributing members of NACo. I will work with the NACo Board, Committee Chairs and membership to ensure NACo is inclusive in their approach to issues and engagement and that we are focused on addressing the most pressing needs of our diverse membership. I will work with all of you to explore creative ways to engage all of our counties in NACo, including extended outreach and engagement to State Executives and State Associations.
I look forward to connecting with all of you in the coming months. I am anxious to learn what’s important to you and your county and how we can best move forward together! I am excited about this opportunity to serve you and I ask for your support!