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ASPA’s New York Metropolitan Chapter Celebrates 70th Anniversary

The following is a speech given by ASPA member Stephen R. Rolandi during the kick-off event for the New York Metropolitan Chapter’s 2010-2011 program year. Rolandi is a long-time member  of the chapter.

Stephen R. Rolandi

This year is a very special year for ASPA’s New York Metropolitan Chapter, as we celebrate the founding of our chapter 70 years ago.

There is something unique about the number 70 and anniversaries.

If one is fortunate to have been married 70 years, one celebrates with gifts of diamonds and platinum.

Many of us who reach the age of 70 are hopefully happily retired, and others look forward to being retired at 70, if not sooner.

And with life expectancy projected in the United States and elsewhere to be in the 90-100 range, 70 is no longer considered old.

There is also some significance to the number 70–this number appears several times in the Torah and the Bible. In the book of Genesis (Genesis 10), there were 70 nations on earth at that time. 70 can also connote strife, and it can also mean unity and togetherness.

There are a lot of meanings, I guess.

But I am here tonight to suggest how we can best celebrate our Chapter’s 70th anniversary.

I want to raise with you four (4) basic questions:

  • Who are we?
  • What is our mission as an organization?
  • Where have we gone, or what have we accomplished?
  • Where are we headed, or what do we want to accomplish?

Who are we?
ASPA was established in 1939 as the most prominent, broadly-based professionally oriented association in the field of American public administration.

Its first local chapter was established in 1939 in Chicago; in the following year, local chapters were set up in Sacramento, Richmond, Minneapolis, Washington, DC, and New York City.

National membership at that time was approximately 1,200 and rose to just over 2000 in 1943. The Society was formally incorporated as a national professional and educational organization in 1945.

ASPA drew its membership from those teaching about public administration, those who considered themselves practitioners, as well as students.

We are indeed a broad-based organization:

  • Members can be found working in the federal, state, county and municipal levels of government, as well as for school districts, not-for-profit organizations, museums, educational institutions, universities, international organizations, military organizations, hospitals, HMOs as well as private sector entities closely allied with the public sector.
  • Members can be commissioners, heads of agencies, analysts, administrative support staff, first line managers and supervisors, consultants, policy advisors and elected officials, as well as retirees.
  • Members are specialists in personnel, finance and budgeting, transportation, management analysis, public works, labor relations, court management, arts administration, and social services.

This list can go on, but I believe what brings us together in ASPA is our sense of public service, and wanting to achieve the public good.

What is our mission?
ASPA is organized to advance and advocate excellence in public service by:

  • Advancing the science, processes and art of public administration;
  • Upholding and promoting the integrity, ethic and professionalism in the public service; and
  • Promoting the equality of opportunity of all persons through public administration;

Several major issues played prominent roles in ASPA’s history:

  • Determining ASPA’s proper organizational configuration;
  • Supporting the relationships between practitioners and academics and between generalists and specialists;
  • Resolving the tension between local and national interests in the organization;
  • Deciding on the appropriate means for selecting organizational leadership;
  • Defining ASPA’s position and relationships among other public administration associations.

Many of these issues are present today.

Now, let us turn to the history of our chapter…

Where have we gone–what have we accomplished?
The Chapter was founded on the eve of the United State’s entry into World War II. In 1940, the Cincinnati Reds won the World Series, and the New York Rangers won the Stanley Cup. Franklin Roosevelt was President of the United States, Herbert Lehman Governor of New York, and Fiorello LaGuardia was Mayor of New York City.

A postage stamp cost 3 cents; average rent was $30.00 a month, and tuition to Harvard was $420.00 a year.

The New York Chapter’s first president was General Brehon B. Somervell, who served as Commanding General of the Army Service Forces in World War II, and was responsible for the Army’s logistics.

Another early chapter president was Albert Pleydell (1943-46) who served as NYC Commissioner under Mayors LaGuardia and O’Dwyer.

A total of 57 men and women have served as president of the New York Metropolitan Chapter, and looking at the roster of these persons shows that our presidents–like the membership of the national association–have come from the ranks of the federal, state, and city (NYC) government, as well as from the major institutions of higher learning.

Some presidents were noted authorities in their field, such as Walter Gellhorn of Columbia University (administrative law).

The Chapter’s first woman president was Nesta Gallas (1971-73); the Chapter’s first African-American president was Trudy Chalmers (1993-94).

Several of our chapter presidents went on to assume national leadership posts in ASPA, among them: Matthias Lukens, Nesta Gallas and Marc Holzer, who served as ASPA National President.

Even more served on ASPA’s National Council, among them: John Fava, Jeanne-Marie Col, Arnold Steigman, Steve Rolandi (that’s me), Michael Gershowitz and William Ciaccio.

Bill, incidentally, holds the record of having served the longest term of any chapter president in the nation (6 years).

The Chapter successfully hosted national and regional conferences in 1980, 1983, 1987 and 1999, and played a major role in the 2001 national conference; successfully instituted a public service awards dinner in honor of Luther Gulick; won coveted chapter awards for programming and newsletters for several years; the list goes on.

Many chapters have looked to the New York Metropolitan Chapter as a model for innovative practices in programming and other local-based activities.

This past year, while many chapters suffered declines in membership, our chapter registered a 20% increase in membership, and now stands as the second largest chapter in the nation. We also completed a successful leadership transition.

Where are we headed?
We are in very challenging, if not perilous times. As a nation, we are slowly coming out of the worst economic recession since the 1930s.

The annual federal budget deficit now exceeds $1 trillion, with a current national debt in the neighborhood of $13 trillion, and rising. China is emerging as the second most powerful economic power in the world.

Most of the states now have severe and prolonged structural budget deficits, and I can go on.

Against this backdrop of current affairs, what would be an appropriate way to celebrate our 70th anniversary?

Let me suggest a couple of things:

  • The Chapter should celebrate its diversity and accomplishments as a vital force for public service in the New York Metropolitan area – this can be done by not only looking backward as what the chapter has done, but also having forums by looking at the future not only of ASPA, but the public service/administration profession as well. We have to find ways of making ourselves more relevant to those concerned about public service;
  • The timing on this could not be better, as National ASPA will soon craft a 2011-2014 strategic plan, and the Chapter should be part of that dialogue; along those lines, the chapter will also develop its own strategic plan;
  • Use the annual awards dinner as a venue to celebrate the chapter’s past and examine the future of the profession;
  • Hold special forums on critical issues facing the nation and region;
  • ASPA can also take the lead as a force in promoting a greater deal of civic education, as recommended by former Supreme Court Justice David Souter and others;

These are some of my thoughts as we launch our 70th anniversary year.

Thank you for having me speak to you.

ASPA member Stephen R. Rolandi is deputy commissioner for finance and administration, State of New York and adjunct lecturer of public administration, department of public administration, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, City University of New York. Email: [email protected]

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