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NLC founder, John Stutz, passes century mark.

While the rest of us were beginning a new year, John G. Stutz was beginning a whole new century. Stutz, the rounding father of the National League of Cities, celebrated his 100th birthday on January 1.

Stutz, a Kansas farmboy who was been in a dirt-floor sod hut in 1893, changed his dreams of becoming a doctor into pursuing a career as a city manager while in high school. After completing his undergraduate work at the University of Kansas and serving in the U.S. Army in World War I, Stutz accepted an offer to serve as executive secretary of the League of Kansas Municipalities in September, 1920.

Four years later, he convened a meeting at Lawrence, Kan., with nine other state league directors to discuss an idea he had put forward in earlier visits with each of them. The idea was the establishment of a vehicle 'to collect and exchange information upon municipal affairs, which may serve to assist the respective state municipal organizations in the promotion of approved methods of municipal government."

Thus began the American Municipal Association, with Stutz serving as its executive secretary and Morris B. Lambie, executive secretary of the League of Minnesota Municipalities, serving as president.

The organization, which began as a confederation of state municipal leagues, evolved in structure and purpose over the years, becoming an organization of municipal governments as well as state leagues in 1947, moving its headquarters from Chicago to Washington in 1954, and changing its name to the National League of Cities in 1964.

"It was the creativity and vision of John Stutz that launched the National League of Cities, and the creativity and vision of today's municipal leaders is now being strengthened and propelled by the organization he created," said NLC Executive Don Borut.

"This special birthday is a wonderful event that adds to the excitement we look forward to in 1993," he said.

In a telephone conversation last week, Stutz recalled that he was vacationing in Arizona during his retirement when he received a call from the AMA leaders, who asked his thoughts about the proposed new name for the organization.

"I told them I thought they had the right ideas incorporated in that title," Stutz said. "It described what we had been doing -- helping cities with information services and helping city officials."

Stutz also recalled some advice he had been given when he began his 35-year career as a league director. "My predecessor in Kansas, Mr. Albert Long, said that in this job you need to keep in mind that city officials are lords in their kingdoms. You give them information, but you don't tell them what to do. You let them do it; that's what they were elected for."

In Kansas, Stutz first focused on two areas in providing services and expert resources to municipalities: legal issues and finances. He hired a full-time lawyer to provide guidance to city attorneys, most of whom were part-time and not well versed in municipal law, and he hired an accountant to provide information to local governments about maintaining financial records and preparing audits.

Stutz, whose career at the the Kansas league continued until his retirement in 1955, was more than an unpaid executive secretary to the new group he had envisioned. In his first financial report at the 1925 meeting, he listed total expenditures of $149.44, which was paid from dues of $65 and a gift of $100, which left a balance of $15.56. Forty-six years later he revealed in a letter that he was the source of the gift.

In 1932, the AMA set up a permanent headquarters in Chicago and hired it first fulltime executive secretary, Paul V. Betters. The move signalled a changing role for the organization into what one league director, speaking at the 1931 AMA meeting, called "a super-organization of cities, acting through their state municipal leagues... to deal with the federal government.'

It was a debate and a decision that began to reshape the AMA and led to the creation of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, as well.

In his writings and recollections, Stutz also revealed more about the broader purposes he envisioned for the organization he and his colleagues created in 1924. He was fundamentally concerned about promoting the concept of excellence in public service, and he was keenly aware of the barriers to addressing the needs and concerns of cities in rural-dominated state legislatures. Thus, he maintained the view that a successful national organization for municipal government had to work with and through the state leagues in order to address the structural needs of municipal government, and that cities as well as state leagues also needed a broader presence in shaping national policies affecting them.

At the state level, Stutz' most lasting achievement came during a two year period, 1933-35, when he conceived, wrote and promoted passage of the cash basis law for local governments. The new law, along with other Stutz-led initiatives on budgeting and auditing, became landmark legislation to keep local governments from falling into debt and also became a credit to Kansas Gov. All Landon in his campaign as the Republican presidential candidate in 1936.

When Stutz retired in 1955, Landon wrote to him, "I do not know of anyone that made more valuable suggestions to me that you did during my four years as governor of Kansas."

Patrick Healy Jr., who was serving as AMA's executive director when Stutz retired, noted another aspect that characterized so much of the man's work. "Your achievements have been carried out

.. in a quiet and unspectacular . way, and yet they are solid," Healy wrote.

Solid as a century, and just as quietly, momentously, and lastingly significant.

Happy birthday, Dad. From your family of Cities, towns and villages, state leagues and affiliates who arc part of your extended, extensive and still-growingfamily: the National League of Cities.
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Title Annotation:National League of Cities
Author:Arndt, Randy
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Date:Jan 11, 1993
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