Meet the committee members

TAC CIRA Advisory Committee to serve as ‘technology brain bank’

By County magazine staff

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In June, the Board chair of the Texas Association of Counties County Information Resources Agency appointed 11 IT professionals to serve on the 2021-22 TAC CIRA Advisory Committee. TAC Executive Director Susan M. Redford called the committee “a technology brain bank.” It will help TAC CIRA identify resources and strategies for enhancing service to counties. The following are short biographies on the committee members, which include seven new members and four reappointments.

Justin Thornton,  Tom Green County*

Justin Thornton is the chair of the TAC CIRA Advisory Committee for 2021-22, and he was also the chair during 2020-21. He is the IT director for Tom Green County and has 18 years of experience in the IT industry. He is also the county’s chief information security officer.

Thornton has a doctorate in computer science and has been a part-time college professor for the past 11 years.

Benny Payne, Rusk County

As director of Rusk County’s one-man IT office, Benny Payne handles IT services and network maintenance for many county and judicial district offices, including the commissioners, the county clerk, the tax assessor, the district clerk, the District Court and elections. He has worked for the county for more than 30 years.  He has been married to his wife, Debbie, for 28 years, and they have two high-school-age granddaughters, whom they have raised since they were toddlers, and a 5-year-old grandson.

Cassandra “Casey” Lowrie, Polk County

Cassandra Lowrie is the IT and systems administrator in Polk County’s three-person IT department. After four years in the U.S. Navy, when she got to see the world, she took a job with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, working her way up the ranks in the IT department. After almost 14 years there, she went to work with the county, where she has been for seven years.

She and her husband of 21 years have four children. Working for the county brings a lot of satisfaction, she says, because there are often new challenges to work through and overcome.

Chris Peikert, Matagorda County

Chris Peikert is the information services manager and network administrator for Matagorda County and the Matagorda County Appraisal District. He supports the technological needs of all county employees and maintains several certifications, including Microsoft certified systems engineer and credentials from the National Crime Information Center/Texas Crime Information Center.   He has worked in county government for 22 years and also manages radios and the associated towers for two law enforcement agencies, nine volunteer fire departments, two hospitals and four school districts.

He has received certificates of appreciation from several local organizations such as the Red Cross and the Veterans County Service Officers Association of Texas. He has also served as a United Way board member.

David Weaver, Lamar County

David Weaver has been an assistant network administrator in Lamar County for almost three years. He started his professional career in 1996, when he joined the Pennsylvania State Police. He learned quickly that things can change in an instant and that one must be prepared for anything. He said he has always had an interest in computers so the transition to IT went smoothly. He is also surprised at how the skills he learned as a state trooper can be useful in his IT work. Weaver said he is proud of his department and enjoys coming to work.

John Buckelew, Kendall County*

John Buckelew, who has 21 years of experience in IT, has been the IT director for Kendall County for seven years. He was previously the IT director for GVTC, a large internet-and-phone service provider.  In rapidly growing Kendall County, with a population of more than 47,000, the IT department serves 300 users who have both personal computers and mobile devices. He has two children.

Josh Brock, Henderson County*

Josh Brock began his IT career in the world of car dealerships and moved over to Henderson County government in the fall of 2005. In the public sector, he took a practical and direct approach. “Everything is possible,” he thought, and he worked to bring cutting-edge technology to the county. This mindset also let him pick from the more vetted products and solutions to find a better fit. If he leaves a legacy with the county as IT director, he hopes it’s simply that he did what was best for the county in all decisions.

Larry Gatlin, Wheeler County

In 2003, Larry Gatlin left Los Angeles to return to the Texas Panhandle and start a technology consulting company specializing in server/network administration for public institutions and local governments, including schools and hospitals. The business also provided hosted exchange services. In December 2020, Gatlin began stepping away from the daily operations of his company to accept a full-time position as administrator of the newly formed Wheeler County IT department. Gatlin has 30 years of experience in IT, doing everything from help desk to SQL administration.

Matt Krischke, Brown County

After a brief stint in accounting, Matt Krischke moved into the IT world in 2006 and back to Brown County. He became the county’s first IT director in 2011 and continues to keep the county operating as a one-man IT department.

He has been married for nearly 20 years to his high school sweetheart, Leslie. They have six children, three of whom were adopted from foster care. They share a passion for the child welfare system and are founders of Knit Together, a nonprofit ministry that serves foster children and foster families in Central Texas.

Krischke also enjoys woodworking, writing and shooting his children with Nerf darts. He has a lifelong devotion to “Star Wars.”

Steven Gonzalez, San Patricio County

As the IT director for San Patricio County, Steven Gonzalez is focused on ensuring that internal technology operations run effectively and smoothly. He seeks out new technological options, checks to make sure technology is properly integrated and works to maintain infrastructure services. His 20 years of experience in technology include time at USAA, World Savings and the Northside Independent School District, which includes part of San Antonio.

He and his wife have five adult children and two granddaughters. The Gonzalezes live in Aransas Pass and enjoy the beach and fishing. They are very loyal Dallas Cowboys fans.

His favorite line: “If you want to succeed, focus on changing yourself, not others.”

Brian Crenshaw, Rockwall County*

Brian Crenshaw is the IT director for Rockwall County.

* Reappointed

What’s on their minds

To get an understanding of the concerns and goals of the members of the TAC CIRA Advisory Committee, they were asked two questions. Those inquiries and a synopsis of their answers follow.

What is the biggest technology issue counties face today?

The overwhelming answer was cybersecurity, followed closely by the financial burden placed on smaller counties in guarding against ransomware attacks and hacking. Other concerns included the need to stay current with technological changes and the growing demand for digital storage.

What do you hope to accomplish during the 2021-22 term of the TAC CIRA Advisory Committee?

Committee members want to advocate on behalf of smaller counties’ technology and cybersecurity needs, as well as to raise awareness about the products and services offered by TAC CIRA. Developing resources and training and refining TAC CIRA’s processes are also on the agenda for the coming year.