Elizabeth Beck and Charlie Lauersdorf sit on opposite sides of the dais at Fort Worth’s City Council meetings, and their politics look pretty different, too. Beck is a Democrat, and Lauersdorf is a Republican.
Partisan divide aside, the two Council members share a big similarity — both have served their country in the military.
“Charlie and I … If you put us on the scales, we’re probably on opposite ends, but we get along really well,” Beck said. “I don’t agree with him all the time, but I don’t think he’s a bad person for disagreeing with me.”
In between cracking jokes about each other’s branch of the military, the pair are working together on policies that help Fort Worth’s 44,000 veterans and veteran-owned businesses succeed. Both Council members are championing a new veteran liaison position with the city, a military affairs action group in partnership with the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce and a new recruitment tool that helps veterans get jobs with the city.
Beck served in the Army Reserves for over eight years with one deployment to Iraq. Lauersdorf joined the Marines in 2001, and he was deployed six times to the Middle East. He is still a Marine reservist and has spent 19 years in the military.
For Lauersdorf, joining the Marines at age 17 continued a family legacy. His dad and brother were both in the military. Both Beck and Lauersdorf never imagined that — shortly after they joined the military — the Sept. 11 attacks would kick off the longest conflict in US history.
“It was like, ‘All right, here we go,’” Lauersdorf said. He was on his way to Marine combat training when the attack occurred. Losing friends while overseas motivated Lauersdorf to keep signing up for deployments.
“I was dead set on just going back and doing whatever I had to do,” he said.
Beck joined the Army Reserves with paying for college in mind but was also attracted to the camaraderie and structure of the military. Her time with the Army shaped her views of the world and her approach as a Council member. Today, she is known as one of the more outspoken members of the City Council, mirroring her entrance into the military, which defied her family’s expectations.
“My grandmother said, ‘Nice Jewish girls don’t join the Army.’”
Beck’s reply: “I’m not nice.”
Veteran policies focus on employment, support
Beck was the only veteran on Fort Worth’s City Council when she was elected in 2021. Soon, she was asking City Manager David Cooke to fund a veterans liaison position to help the city reach out to partner organizations and advocate for veterans services. Lauersdorf, a new addition to the dais this year, immediately threw his weight behind her proposal.
“We talk about being a great military community and really supporting our veterans but, like it is more than a free appetizer on Veterans Day,” Beck said. “What are we (really) doing?”
The city is finalizing the job description for the position, said Dianna Giordano, director of Human Resources with the city. Because this is a new position in Fort Worth, the city surveyed other cities with similar positions to create a list of qualifications that fit the role, Giordano said.
The liaison will pull together regional resources for veterans and direct the city’s efforts to make sure Fort Worth’s veterans are getting as much assistance and support as possible.
The city is also implementing SkillBridge, a Department of Defense program that subsidizes six months of employment for people transitioning out of the military. The city’s first SkillBridge employee started work in the city’s Animal Services Department on Nov. 7.
The veterans benefit by gaining new skills and opportunities for advancement in a new environment. The city hopes the program, along with Hiring Our Heroes, will help the city find candidates for hard-to-fill positions in the Code Compliance, Transportation and Public Works and Water departments.
“We know that individuals that are transitioning from the military come with a strong work ethic and great leadership skills,” Giordano said. “We’re just trying to look at different pipelines to create a career path for them to join city employment.”
The city will benefit from focusing recruitment efforts on veterans, Lauersdorf said. Today, the city estimates it employs about 200 current or former service members.
Increasing opportunities for veteran-owned businesses
Lauersdorf, a business owner, is working to increase opportunities for veteran-owned businesses. The city should offer more opportunities for veteran- and disabled veteran-owned businesses to compete for city contracts, Lauersdorf said.
The city already requires a percentage of city contracts to be set aside for minority and women-owned businesses. Lauersdorf proposes setting aside an additional percentage for veteran-owned businesses certified through the federal historically underutilized business certification.
The Fort Worth Chamber’s military affairs action group will help veterans get certified as a historically underutilized business and connect them with city networking and investment opportunities, Lauersdorf said.
The group will likely be up and running by January, said Steve Montgomery, President and CEO of the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce. Along with helping entrepreneurs, the group will aim to connect veterans with employment opportunities. The group’s efforts could bolster Fort Worth’s wider economy, Montgomery said.
“We have a high population of veterans here,” Montgomery said. “There’s entrepreneurs among those folks. How do we help foster that growth? New business feeds into a prosperous, vibrant local economy.”
Beck and Lauersdorf’s military service does more than shape the pair’s approach to policies, they said. It forever shifted their perspective on service as a council member and on life.
“When you think you’re having a bad day … or you’re on council and we may not agree on something, it’s like, ‘Yeah, but are you being shot at?’” Lauersdorf said. “At the end of the day, we’re all still living in the greatest city, in the greatest state, in the greatest country.”
The hardest days on council are never going to be as difficult as the most difficult day in Iraq, Beck said.
“When you’re in a place in which the people’s governments are not working for them,” she said, “it makes you want to make sure that this government that we get to be part of works for them, because you see what it looks like when you don’t.”
Editor’s note: This story was updated to correct the history of Veterans serving simultaneously on Fort Worth’s City Council.
Rachel Behrndt is a government accountability reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.