As new board president of the Southeast Texas Regional Planning Commission, Shirley Bonnin got to select the official who would swear her in.

She says County Judge Carl Thibodeaux was an easy choice.

“We’ve been friends for a long time,” she says. “And we’ve worked together on many issues. We’ve been good friends ever since he opened his drug store (West Orange Pharmacy).” 

Bonnin has been on the commission’s board some 15 years, the same amount of time she’s been on the West Orange City Council. She was named second vice president to fill the term of a board member who retired for health reasons. Lately she has served as first vice president. 

Established in 1970, the Regional Planning Commission is not a government, or a taxing or enforcing agency. Its programs are implemented by local authorities and serve the needs of Orange, Jefferson and Hardin counties.

As president, Bonnin succeeds Sour Lake City Councilwoman Suzanne Simmons.

“Officials from the three counties have been working very well together,” Bonnin says. “You really don’t get to know who your neighbors are until you have a tragedy like Hurricane Ike.”

In 2010 the commission will distribute some $297 million in government funds related to Hurricane Ike, she says.

“We’re just about through with grants devoted to Hurricane Rita damage. We had a first wave of Ike grants that covered infrastructure issues, and now we’re going to have grants for Ike that will deal with housing and social services. There’s a lot of need out there. The bad part is that there are so many out there that are good and deserving of these grants, but we only get so much money per year.”

Retired from the Orange County District Clerk’s Office, Bonnin is originally from Alabama.

“My mother had been from Southeast Texas, and we moved here when I was 7,” Bonnin says. “I’ve lived here for 65 years. I was involved in the incorporation of West Orange and I had an uncle who helped write some of the by-laws.”

She and her husband, the late Russell Bonnin (who worked with the Highway Department) had three children. 

She says Ike damage will also be a major issue for the West Orange City Council this year.

“We’re still dealing with clean-up, and that’s going to take a long time,” she says. “We’re still being affected by the hurricane and hopefully we won’t have another one like it.”

Other commission programs include a 9-1-1 Emergency Network, the Area Agency on Aging of Southeast Texas, Substance Abuse Division, Public Safety Division and Homeland Security/Emergency Management Planning.

Additional programs include:

• Golden Triangle RSVP – matches skills of senior citizens who want to volunteer in law enforcement, hospitals and other agencies

• Transportation and Resources Division – works with state, city and county entities to coordinate transportation planning; and operates a rural transportation program.

• 2-1-1 Texas – links callers to health and human services, or other government programs.