Chairman of the Guilford County Board of Commissioners Skip Alston, along with Commissioners Kay Cashion, Pat Tillman, Carly Cooke, Mary Beth Murphy and Brandon Gray-Hill are Florida-bound next week so they can get some serious training when it comes to running county government.

And maybe they’ll have a little bit of fun and do a little sightseeing while they’re there in the Sunshine State as well.

County taxpayers are footing the bill for the transportation, meals, hotel rooms and the $720 admission tickets, but don’t worry because Guilford County commissioners who attend these trips each summer always assure citizens when they get back that they learned a great deal – and that it is very beneficial to county residents to have well-informed and well-trained commissioners.

In Tampa, the Guilford County commissioners will, among other learning experiences hear from other county officials across the country regarding the best practices that are working in those counties.

Guilford County Manager Mike Halford is expected to be attending as well, and Guilford County is receiving some national awards at the event for programs that are working well in Guilford County.

Every July, the National Association of Counties (NACo) holds its Annual Conference, which the organization describes as, “the premier gathering of leaders from the nation’s 3,069 counties, parishes and boroughs.”

 Conference content this year includes things such as discussions as to how federal policies affect counties, workshops where counties across the country show off their best practices for other counties to emulate, as well as large collective meetings at which NACo policies and practices are shaped.

Guilford County gets a vote in those matters, as other counties do.

The conventions do present some valuable information to county leaders, but the truth is that, like many things in life, the attending county officials get out of it what they put into it.  There is no requirement to attend any seminar or learning experience.

Guilford County commissioners, year after year, have said upon returning that they take these trips very seriously and that in no way are they “junkets,” – that is, “an extravagant trip or celebration, in particular one enjoyed by a government official at public expense.”

The 2024 conference runs from Thursday, July 11 to Monday, July 15.

The first full day of the conference will be Friday, June 12 and it will include a morning orientation for first-time attendees and policy steering committee meetings during some of the day. There will also be a welcome reception (read: very nice party) in the exhibit hall in the evening.

NACo affiliates, affinity groups and state associations also plan to host other meetings and receptions in the evenings.

Sunday afternoon, the conference attendees get to choose between three educational summits or some mobile tours offered by the host county, which is Hillsborough County, Florida this year.

The closing party will take place on the final evening at the Florida Aquarium.

The affiliate hotels for the event are the Tampa Marriott Waterstreet  ($185 a night), the JW Marriott ($199) and the Embassy Suites Tampa Downtown  ($210), among others.

One interactive training session will be led by Hagerty Consulting, a NACo Corporate Premier Partner that helps communities prepare for and recover from disasters.  This session will teach county leaders what actions they should take before, during and after disasters to protect their residents and property.

Some events are meant for largely rural counties where attendees gain insight into the particular challenges and opportunities facing rural America.

There will also be learning events on subjects such as creating affordable housing, community revitalization, using technology for the public good, effective transportation initiatives, fighting cyber-attacks, immigration reform, best practices in land use, how to handle the media in times of crisis, workforce development and fostering civility in public discourse.

Saturday kicks off with a bike ride through various scenic areas of Tampa Bay and a Riverfront stroll. That will be followed by a “networking breakfast.”

One weekend meeting will be of the National Association of County LGBT Leaders & Allies (NACLGBTLA).

It wouldn’t be a 2024 training event without providing information on Artificial Intelligence, and, at the NACo conference, there is this offering: “Generative AI is poised to transform the way businesses and governments operate. Join this workshop for an exploratory conversation on how best practices are emerging for utilizing generative AI for county governance functions and services. Explore the benefits and risks of introducing this novel technology in your community.”

But all the learning the commissioners will be doing down in sunny Florida won’t be done in a meeting hall or a stuffy conference room.

One outdoor event will be the “Mobile Workshop: Apollo Beach Preserve Tour.”

“This is offered on a first-come, first-served basis,” the description reads. “ It is primarily outdoors in full sun and walking on sand. Please dress accordingly.

“The 63-acre Apollo Beach Nature Preservation on the eastern shore of Tampa Bay includes creeks, beach dunes and upland islands. Recreational amenities include nature trails, picnic pavilions, beach access and an ADA-accessible observation tower that “provides panoramic views of Tampa Bay, downtown St. Petersburg, downtown Tampa, and Florida’s amazing sunsets.”

This will help the county officials who go on the tour learn about environmental protection.

Another Mobile Workshop takes attendees to the Hillsborough County Veterans Memorial Park and Museum.

The final night’s festivities are described as follows, “We invite you to celebrate your conference experience, network with your peers and enjoy an evening at the amazing Florida Aquarium before heading home. Attendees will also have an opportunity to visit the adjacent American Victory Ship, one of only four operational World War II ships in the country.”