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The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.
By Casey Seidman
September 9, 2016
The year 1962 marked the beginning of a new era for the South. Baker versus Carr, a landmark Supreme Court case, determined that malappropriated state legislatures were unconstitutional. The Baker decision resulted in more legislators from urban districts and put an end rural legislators’ complete dominance of state legislatures in the South. States would now have to be responsive to the needs of all its citizens. Landmark federal legislation continued this trend as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965 required states to treat all residents equally.
The South had been forever changed.
These changes required a public sector workforce that could help usher the South into a new era of economic prosperity and societal inclusion. Yet contemporary theory and practice left public administrators unequipped to handle it. They needed a conference where practitioners and academics could craft groundbreaking governance theory to meet the challenges to come.
In 1969, ASPA’s South Florida Chapter sponsored a conference in Tampa, Florida where chapters from across the South gathered to discuss the future of the public sector. One year later, members of ASPA’s National Council were elected from geographic regions for the first time in the organization’s history. This “regional consciousness” empowered Southern public administrators to come together annually and work on advancing public administration practice and theory.
Building on this groundwork, a determined group of public administrators—ASPA’s “Southeastern delegation”—filed incorporation paperwork to create the Southeastern Conference of Public Administration (SECoPA) in 1978.
Year after year, practitioners and academics from across the Southeastern United States come together to build capacity in the public sector. And, many have seen SECoPA as a key leader in helping the South transition from a struggling region rife with division to one with a diverse, progressive economy.
SECoPA takes place annually in a Southeastern city chosen by the committee. Each conference honors its host city by inviting local public officials. The 2015 conference, held in North Charleston, South Carolina, welcomed Charleston Mayor Joseph Reilly who discussed the social and political changes that had occurred in his long mayoral tenure. Conference topics included policing, zoning, economic development, community relations and governance in the 21st century.
Every SECoPA strives to highlight contemporary public administration issues. The 2015 conference was no exception as it touched on a hot button political issue: the Confederate flag.
On June 17, 2015, Dylan Roof opened fire at the historic Emmanuel A.M.E. Church, killing nine people during a prayer service. Roof claimed he wanted to start a race war. His choice of venue was no coincidence. It was one of the oldest black churches in the South and a symbol of the Civil Rights movement. Old wounds had been reopened.
State capitols across the South confronted a choice: Keep the Confederate flag hanging above their legislatures or bring it down. The nation at large felt that the flag—and much of what it symbolizes—had motivated the shooting at the Emmanuel A.M.E. Church and other hate crimes. Southern states, most notably the South Carolina legislature, voted to remove the flag from their state houses.
SECoPA 2015 did not shy away from this controversy. It convened a panel discussion on the Confederate flag and its role in modern society. The confluence of contemporary factors and geography ensured the panel would be one of the most well attended sessions. Similarly, SECoPA addressed contemporary sociopolitical challenges head on. Plenaries and panels that dealt with “Confederate flags” and “economic development” served as a bridge between theory and practice. Academics and practitioners could see where their worlds align and collide.
Hosted by North Carolina State University, SECoPA 2016 will take place at the Sheraton Raleigh Hotel, from Oct. 13-16. The theme—Reexamining Key Relationships in American Governance—promises to touch on all of the issues that contemporary public administration faces. The conference invites everyone, from first year graduate students to seasoned professionals, to either attend or submit papers for exhibition.
Join us this year in Raleigh as we continue SECoPA’s rich tradition of advancing the theory and practice of public administration.
This article originally appeared in the summer edition of PA TIMES magazine.
Author: Casey Seidman is the public sector relations liaison within the Huizenga Business College at Nova Southeastern University. He is responsible for building relationships with governments and nonprofits for the purpose of student recruitment. He holds a B.S. in Political Science and an M.P.A. from Arizona State University. He can be reached at [email protected]