The Texas Association of Counties (TAC) has named Williamson County a 2020 County Best Practices Award recipient for its Financial Literacy Program.
Developed by Williamson County Precinct 3 Justice of the Peace Evelyn McLean, the program aims to break a cycle that contributes to repeat citations for driving without a license, driving with an invalid license or driving with no car insurance by allowing defendants to take a class that offers general spending and budgeting tips rather than pay a fine. Working with the Financial Literacy Coalition of Central Texas, and supported by a $32,000 grant from Experian, McLean implemented the free one-hour class after frequently seeing defendants plead guilty to a violation whose fine they were unable to pay. Because of financial hardship, they would continue to drive without a license or insurance, only to owe the court more when they received another citation.
By giving first-time offenders the opportunity to learn how they can improve their financial stability, McLean hopes to reduce their chances of becoming a repeat offender while improving public safety.
"It is truly an honor to receive this award," McLean said. "And while I am proud that our court was chosen for this prestigious award, I am most proud of the Financial Literacy Program and the positive impact it has made on the over 1,000 participants who have come through our court.
"We are educating individuals to do the right things with their money, which leads to better financial well-being and ultimately has a positive impact on our community," she said.
Since the program began in April 2019, 1,237 people have requested the financial literacy class as of Nov. 10 and 714 cases have been dismissed. Video conferencing has allowed the program to continue during the coronavirus pandemic.
The program's success has prompted other Williamson County officials and departments to adopt it, including Precinct 2 Justice of the Peace Edna Staudt and Juvenile Services. The Williamson County Emerging Adult Program, which provides an alternative to incarceration for 17- to 24-year-olds who have committed low-level offenses, has also begun using the program.
McLean considers the Financial Literacy Program easily replicable and says her office will provide the Power Point presentation used in the class to any county interested in the program. "Dedication to improving lives and serving the public runs through Williamson County's Financial Literacy Program," TAC Executive Director Susan M. Redford said. "We hope this award inspires other counties to explore new solutions to similar problems."
Williamson County was one of six Texas counties selected to receive a TAC 2020 County Best Practices Award. Every other year, TAC's County Best Practices Awards Program recognizes noteworthy innovations and solutions that increase efficiency, improve operations or overcome obstacles facing county governments. These innovations and solutions help Texas counties better serve their residents. The best of them also serve as models that other counties can shape to fit their particular needs.