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History of KU and NFBPA Relationship

Monday, February 10, 2014

This brief history was prepared by John Nalbandian with the assistance of Rod Bremby, Vernell Sturns, and Bob Terrell.

The National Forum for Black Public Administrators (NFBPA) is a member-driven association that began in the early 1980s as a reaction to an International City/County Management Association (ICMA) presidential election where the candidate of the board’s nominating committee (Mr. Sylvester Murray) was rejected by the membership. Mr. Murray would have been the first African American President of ICMA, and he was the first person the board’s nominating committee proposed that the membership rejected in favor of an at-large candidate. There was more to it than this, of course, but the rejection of Sy was enough that a group of African American ICMA members got together in protest at an informally convened dinner at the national ICMA conference, and from there NFBPA was formed. There were two KU alumni at that meeting - Bob Terrell and Vernell Sturns, both from the Dallas Metroplex in Texas. Vernell served on the KUCIMAT board for many years, spanning the time when the Executive Leadership Institute (ELI) was created as an NFBPA program. Vernell, Bob, and Rod Bremby, another KUCIMAT, were founders of the north Texas chapter of NFBPA.

The University of Kansas, via the School of Public Affairs & Administration, has had a formal relationship with the National Forum for Black Public Administrators since 2006. In 2004, at the ICMA conference in San Diego, Ray Hummert and John Nalbandian convened a group of minority alumni, asking them how the School could better focus our efforts to recruit minority students to the intern option of the MPA program and how we could gain more visibility among African American local government professionals. We were urged to develop a relationship with the NFBPA through its Executive Leadership Institute.

The ELI is a yearlong professional development program which involves selective admission of about a dozen local government African American (and occasionally other minority group) members. The participants travel to seven or eight universities during their year and spend about three days at each location. In 2013-14 the host universities are Howard, Southern, KU, Duke, Minnesota, Louisville, Clark Atlanta, and Syracuse. The universities assemble a program for the participants against the backdrop of an annual theme. Participants also are required to prepare a capstone project and paper, and they have a mentor as well.

The School arranged for John Saunders, then the executive director of NFBPA, to meet with a few of the KU alumni in the DC area, home of the NFBPA offices. Among those attending the meeting was Tom Downs. Tom had been a White House Fellow, the Chief Administrative Officer for the District of Columbia, and Chief Executive of the New York City Port Authority. As he told School personnel later, John went into that meeting thinking he was interviewing the KUCIMATs to determine if KU would be an appropriate ELI site. He left thinking that he had been the one interviewed!

John then invited the School to join the other universities as hosts to the ELI program, and we welcomed our first ELI class in 2006.

During the KU visit of ELI participants, we focus on community building and local government - our strength - but we also offer Kansas hospitality that sets us apart from the other universities. The Nalbandians facilitate the sessions, inviting other faculty like Chuck Epp, Alfred Ho, and Shannon Portillo to present as well. Occasionally we have engaged KUCIMAT and NFBPA members to participate in panel discussions. We include a visit to Kansas City, sponsored by the KC chapter of NFBPA. That visit traditionally includes tours of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum and the American Jazz Museum and then dinner as well. For some, the history revealed in the museum tours is an eye opener and a highlight of their visit. In addition, we have included a reception at the home of a faculty member, which is unique among the visits, and it has an effect in setting us apart. Additionally, we have asked the chancellor to speak to the group, and while her session is a highlight for the participants, it is also something that we know she enjoys.

We are proud of our School's connection to the NFBPA!


Ruth DeWitt, Communications Manager
KU School of Public Affairs and Administration
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