Sunday Sitdown

Lonnie Hunt, Executive Director, DETCOG

By Greg Ritchie

Messenger Reporter

The Messenger continues its Sunday Sitdown reports where we speak with our local pastors, educators, businesspeople, students and interesting people of all walks of life in Houston County. To see the full video interview, please click on the link below. The Messenger would like to thank Quality Paint and Body in Crockett for sponsoring this week’s edition.

What exactly is DETCOG?

“DETCOG stands for Deep East Texas Council of Governments and Economic Development District. We started as a federal economic development district when LBJ was president and there was legislation passed to create the Economic Development Administration, which is under the US Department of Commerce. And that legislation allowed regions to come together and create economic development districts to help planning for economic development and growth and also to provide a vehicle for communities to access funding for projects and planning. We are a political subdivision of the state of Texas and we’re a extension of the U.S. Department of Commerce as a federal economic development district. Now all that said, economic development was our first mission and it’s still a very important part of our mission. But we do a lot of other things now The governor delineates our boundaries, but we are a pretty unique creature, in that we don’t have any taxing authority. We don’t have any ordinance making authority. Membership is voluntary. All of our counties are members, most of our cities – we have over 40 cities in our region and some are really small, but the vast majority are members because they see the benefit of working together with their neighbors. We all have rural areas, but there are only four of us that don’t have any urban centers. We are totally rural. As a result, various programs in Houston County and the city of Crockett and other cities and counties in our region really just aren’t large enough and wouldn’t have enough participation to run these programs on their own. And so we run these programs at the regional level for their benefit. We’re not another layer of government between the county and the state. We don’t run the counties and cities – they run us. In fact, the state legislation requires that at least two-thirds of our governing board be elected officials of our cities and counties. So we exist because our cities and counties want us to exist for their benefit.”

What is your role at DETCOG and what are you working on now?

“I’m the executive director and blessed to have a staff of about 60 people, most of which have been here for a good long while. We’re growing some lately but are involved in many different things. We’re required annually to present to the governor, the state auditor and the legislative budget board a report on what we did last year and what we plan to do this year. I would encourage everybody to look at it. Our work is as varied as support and funding for the senior citizen centers and home delivered meals and other services for our aging and disabled population to Homeland Security, claiming disaster recovery after hurricanes and law enforcement trainings. We administer the 911 network for our region, which means someone at the Houston County Sheriff’s Office is going to answer your call. But they’re able to answer the call and see where you are and where are you calling from because we have the network in place for the 911 system. And that system handles up to 300,000 calls a year in our 11 counties. We are in the background and we’re happy to be in the background but we put the framework in place. we operate a large factory in terms of dollars. Our largest program is our Texas regional housing authority. We serve about 1,700 families. We don’t own any houses but we operate the HUD section eight Housing Choice Voucher Program. And we qualify families who qualify to receive a subsidy and then we go out and inspect properties where they want to live. Part of that program is designed to help people become more self-sufficient, so they don’t need the program. Our goal is to get those people in our housing voucher program enrolled in one of those programs so that they can make themselves more self-sufficient. We work with the VA to provide housing for homeless veterans and believe it or not, we have a lot of homeless veterans in deep East Texas. Another problem in Texas, foster children once they reach age 18 and they’re out of the foster program. Some of those at age 18 are not ready to live on their own. This program provides housing vouchers specifically for people turning 18 in foster homes who need a year or two of getting established and on their feet so they can become productive citizens.”

How can the public help DETCOG?

“One thing is to be informed and to be involved. I was blessed to be the county judge in Houston County and probably still the best job I ever had, although not the most lucrative, but still a wonderful job. And I would tell people, county government is government of the people, by the people, for the people and among the people. Support your local communities. If you don’t agree with everything they are doing, you have a chance to have input, show up, learn. Try to think about the greater good. We all have a tendency to be wired in on what’s good for me and what I want. At the same time, let’s think about what’s good for ‘us.’ Wake up with a determined mindset that this is a wonderful place to live. It’s God’s country in my books. We’ve got our special needs and hardships, but we’ve got so many opportunities here. Check out everything on our website, www.detcog.gov and if you’ve got questions, contact us. We are always open to questions, constructive criticisms – there’s nothing ever been done that can’t be improved upon. And that’s our goal, to get better and better, every day.”

Greg Ritchie can be reached at [email protected]

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