Durham, NC – September 24th, 2014. Posted by Shelley Hare.
Intro:Commissioner Ronnie Beale, of Macon County, was sworn in as the 98th president of the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners (NCACC) last month during the Association’s 107th Annual Conference. Beale has served as commissioner for Macon County for the last 8 years and has held a seat on the NCACC Executive Board since 2011 - moving one step closer towards the role of President each year.
Commissioner Beale participates in numerous boards and associations aimed to add value to our NC community and even received the 2013 Outstanding County Commissioner Award for demonstrating special achievements throughout the state on behalf of county government.
Farragut caught up with Beale to get a preview of his overall vision, the critical issues he plans to address during his one-year term, and to get his take on the legislative priorities to keep an eye on in the year ahead.
What are you most looking forward to as the 2014-2015 NCACC President?
“It’s an honor to be president,” said Beale. “After being involved with the Association for a number of years now, I look forward to continuing working with the Board of Directors along with the other 100 counties across the state as we work with the legislature on issues that are beneficial to all counties. We have a great Board, great District Directors, and great staff at the Association – it’s the people that make it great.”
Championing for all 100 counties in NC is important to Beale as well. “An interesting thing about the legislature in NC is that 20 urban counties make up more of the percentage than the 80 rural counties combined – and these 80 counties and their needs are just as important to remember and cannot be overlooked,” Beale told us.
What will be the biggest change, transitioning from your roles on the Executive Board to your role as NCACC President?
“Once you become president, you set the agenda and the tone for the year ahead,” responded Beale. “With that, the challenge is that we [County Commissioners] are all very busy people and I don’t want to burden anyone with things that are not productive. I will work to make sure that any initiative I put forth is worthy of their time and interest.”
What legislative goals are you hoping to target for 2014-2015?
“Counties are in the process of submitting their goal proposals. Once all goal proposals are collected and voted on by our general membership, we will have our marching orders for next year. We look for goals that can benefit everyone - both the state and county.”
Out of the goals that are approved, the NCACC typically targets a few high-priority goals to heavily promote. “Rest assured that one target will be lottery funds (reinstating lottery funds for school construction),” predicted Beale. “And mental health reform will be another.”
“We are working with the legislature on the lottery funds that we continue to ask for – back to the 40% that was in the statute when the lottery bill was put in front of the voters,” Beale told us. “This year it will drop below 20%. Counties are depending on the lottery funds that were agreed on to help pay for renovations and new schools in their counties.”
Commissioner Beale is passionate about mental healthcare reform in NC and plans to create a state-wide task force that will research and report on a long-term plan to help those in need of mental health services and their families. “It’s a marathon, not a sprint,” said Beale of his mission to create change. “Our goal is to come up with solutions that allow patients to get treatment quicker and extend services when needed.”
“NC is 44th in the nation in the number of psychiatric beds available to mental health patients,” explained Beale. “With no other illness would you be brought to a hospital, strapped to a bed, and forced to wait hours upon hours, sometimes days, to see a doctor or be delivered treatment. It’s not right. We need to have better resources available.”
Mental health patients need more than housing – they need treatment, and then follow-up treatments that are easily accessible. “Our jails are our biggest mental health facilities and that needs to change,” said Beale. “We want to be able to deliver more services, more economically. Treating the illness upfront will be less costly than allowing patients without proper care and treatment to end up in jail, dependent on the government for years to come.”
“Mental health is an illness that affects nearly every family in NC in some way; it just depends on how many generations you can trace back,” said Beale. “ I will continue promoting and fighting against the stigma of mental health. It is an illness, and just like any other illness, people need to get the help they deserve.”
What have been the most rewarding aspects of your role as County Commissioner for Macon County the last 8 years?
“The biggest reward is when you can help the community or individual that comes to you with a problem. Commissioners are the first line of contact for citizens. They can’t easily get ahold of their Congressman or Senator, but Commissioners are right there in and around the local community,” Beale explained. “Being able to help; Even if it’s just one person at a time, that’s the most rewarding part of it.”
How did you decide to become involved in serving local government?
“I ran for County Commissioner to give back to the community that has been so good to me and my family. I have been a businessman here for 34 years and the citizens have supported us for so many years that I wanted to work hard to give back to our community.”
What advice would you give to future generations considering serving in local government?
“It’s a whole lot more than a few meetings a month – it’s a huge time commitment. You have to be prepared to handle whatever the constituents bring to you and be responsible. You need to know how to read a budget, and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Run for the right reasons. Be willing to work hard and do the right thing for the constituents – regardless of political affiliations. I would encourage anybody to participate that would have the best interest of their county at heart.”