A Brief History of NACA

NACA offers a unique and fascinating parallel with how counties have developed during the last 50+ years.

Mort McBain VIA NACA

by Mort McBain, former county administrator, Marathon County, Wisconsin and a past president of NACA

NACA is not the first association of county administrators working together for a common purpose. No history of NACA would be complete without a reference to the International City/County Management Association (ICMA), to which many members of NACA currently belong.

ICMA, originally known as the "International City Manager’s Association," was formed at a time when there were only 32 municipal governments in the United States and Canada that had adopted some version of the "Council-Manager Plan" as it is now commonly known. The initial meeting of ICMA was held in Springfield, Ohio where Charles E. Ashburner was elected the first president of the new association. Richard S. Childs, an early reformer with the &Quot;Short Ballot Organization" is generally credited as the father of Council-Manager Government in the United States. The first recognized "Council-Manager" plan occurred in Staunton, Virginia in 1908, and by 1930 there were over 400 local government units recognized under this form of government. Although most Council-Manager plans were confined to cities, in 1930, Durham County, North Carolina, was recognized as the first county to incorporate the concept of professional management. During the 1940's and 1950's, other counties began to experiment with appointed managers and administrators. In 1969, ICMA changed its name to the "International City Management Association," and began to recognize appointed city and county officials who essentially carried out the same functions as city managers, but without having adopted the formal Council-Manager plan. These arrangements were recognized as "general management" communities, and counties were most often recognized under this new and more flexible arrangement.

In addition to ICMA, various state associations and ICMA state chapters began to incorporate counties into their membership ranks. North Carolina, a leader in recognizing the importance of professional county administration, formed their own association of professional local government managers in 1938, and by 1964 had changed their name to the North Carolina City and County Management Association. County members of ICMA continued to grow as the role of county administrators and managers evolved and became part of the ICMA culture and membership base.

The first meeting to discuss the formation of NACA took place in 1959, at the Lafayette Hotel in Washington, DC. Bernie Hillenbrand, then the executive director of the National Association of Counties (NACo), was present with his assistant Rod Kendig, and a small group of county administrators. Later that year, at a NACo conference in Detroit, Michigan, NACA was officially organized, and Marty Tarshes, appointed executive of Sacramento County, California, was elected as NACA’s first president. It is interesting to note that NACo played a significant role in both helping to organize and then in maintaining NACA as an active affiliate of NACo, due primarily to the leadership of Bernie Hillenbrand. The association grew slowly but steadily as word spread, and the members continued to meet separately from the annual NACo meetings. In 1970, eleven years after NACA’s formation, it is estimated that there were more than 200 counties with some type of appointed administrator, although not all were members of NACA or ICMA. As late as 1972, elected county executives, mostly from New York, were also welcomed as members of NACA, until the formation of their own association. In fact Ed Rath, elected executive from Erie County, became NACA president in 1968.

By 1975, NACA was very much a part of NACo’s overall activities, and county administrators were serving on 10 of NACo’s 12 Steering Committees. On the "Labor-Management Relations" committee alone there were 6 NACA members, with a total of 32 county administrators appointed to serve on the various steering committees by NACo president Stan Smoot during 1975. In essence, approximately one fourth of the entire NACA membership was involved and serving on NACo steering committees in the mid 1970’s. Another activity in support of NACo was the regular column in the County News titled "Management Focus," written specifically for county administrators by the NACA leadership.

In December 1976, the first edition of NACA’s newsletter rolled off the presses. The County Administrator, published quarterly, was described by NACA president Gerald McFadden as an information "communiqué" for administrators. Sponsored jointly by NACA and NACo, the newsletter was published, edited, and circulated by NACo, with NACo staffers Linda Ganschinietz and Terry Schutten as editor and circulation manager respectively. The quarterly publication was in 11" by 11" format, professionally typeset, and was quite impressive. In addition to a feature article by a member, a president’s letter, and notices of meetings, publications, etc., the newsletter featured new members of NACA and their histories. John Thomas of NACo was responsible for membership issues for NACA. One of the publications advertised in the first newsletter "Guide to County Organization and Management," was published by NACo, and contained information by a variety of authors on how counties could improve administration and become more efficient and effective. It seems, at that time, that the "professionalization" of county government, under the direction of Bernie Hillenbrand, was a major priority of NACo and key NACo staff were assigned to work with and promote the interests of NACA as being consistent with the goals and objectives of NACo. NACA also enjoyed a close working relationship with NACo, and NACo staffers John Thomas and Terry Schutten provided the "secretariat" services to NACA, including publishing regular NACA sponsored management articles in the County News. On the professional development side, county administrators like Richard Black, county manager of Charleston County, South Carolina, were writing articles comparing city and county management, such as his 1977 article "Administrators Handle City Functions," in the County Administrator newsletter. The article explains how counties were assuming many responsibilities previously handled by cities, and concludes with an explanation of how the skills required by a county manager are just as important and necessary as those required by a traditional city manager. Black writes, "The contemporary county administrator possesses or should possess management expertise, and be capable of directing a strong, cohesive management team. This is the key to the excellence of administration modern counties require and must achieve, particularly with their new role and responsibilities to the public."

In 1977, another area where NACA attempted to "professionalize" county government was the sponsoring by NACA of "Mini-Management Packets" for county officials. These packets were designed to help county officials keep up-to-date on the issues and actions that affect the administration and management of a county. They were made available through NACo for a minimal fee to cover the handling costs.

Professional administration in counties continued to grow due to regular exposure in NACo’s County News, among other reasons. By 1980 it was estimated that there were as many as 1,000 counties with some type of central administrative position, although no one really knew for sure just how many counties were involved in this kind of reorganizing. The following chart shows the growth of various county management options between 1960 and 1980:






Consolidated City-Counties




Charter Counties




Elected Executive Counties




Appointed Administrator Counties




*Note the increase both in counties with administrators and those with elected executives. In some states the elected executive form is mandated for certain counties. In those states where counties are allowed to choose, most counties tend to choose the appointed administrator form over the elected executive form.


By the late 1970’s, with approximately 130 members and steadily growing, NACA was also becoming more of a presence within ICMA. In an effort to address the unique challenges facing county managers the "County" committee of ICMA was formed. In 1981, the County Committee conducted an ICMA membership survey, and reported on ICMA’s role with county managers, including a list of recommendations. This was the first time that the question of a name change was posed as a means of attracting more county members to ICMA.

During the early 1980’s, NACo underwent a major restructuring, partially as a result of a difficult and unsuccessful bid to acquire a permanent home. Several key staffers left NACo, and the secretariat services for NACA were put out to bid. Ralph Tabor, who at that time was a private consultant, was among those who offered to provide the services to NACA. ICMA also offered to establish a "County Management Services Center" in order to tailor services to county members. In 1983 the first dues structure was put in place by president Buck Johnston, Campbell County, Virginia. NACA was considered an affiliate of both NACo and ICMA, but the members of the ICMA county committee were appointed by the ICMA president. In 1984, the newsletter, was revived as a quarterly publication by president Larry Brown in a regular 8½ by 11 format, and private consultant, Al Siegel agreed to serve as editor on an experimental basis, while NACo continued to print and distribute it. By this time NACA was meeting regularly as part of the annual NACo conferences, and in 1984 NACA co-hosted several training tracks for elected officials in conjunction with the annual NACo conference in King County, Washington.

In the mid 1980’s, under the direction of president Claude Malone of Montgomery County, Ohio, NACA urged the National Civic League (NCL) to address professional management in those counties that did not have home-rule charters. Recognizing that a major purpose of the NCL’s Model County Charter revision project was to guide public officials and citizens in modernizing county government, it was felt that the Model County Charter should be supplemented by highlighting those counties that had actually used the "Non-Charter" route to reform. At the time, this was the most widely used method to introduce and strengthen professional management in counties. NACA and the NCL did not attempt to present the best practice. Instead, they presented selective examples of legal tools that had been used effectively to encourage professional development. Examples were cited from North Carolina, New York, California, Illinois, Ohio, and other states. The project culminated with a publication by William Cassella from the NCL titled "Modern Counties Professional Management – The Non-Charter Route," published in 1992.

In April 1986, the first networking session for large or urban counties was held in Johnson County, Kansas, and proved to be such a success that a similar forum followed it in November of the same year. The second Urban County Administrator’s Forum was held in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, hosted by county manager Gerry Fox. The roundtable discussions that were held at the urban counties forum again proved to be successful, and in fact led to the current "idea exchange" for members that have been held continuously at NACo conferences since then. There was an attempt by both ICMA and NACA to sponsor joint recruiting activities in each state with the assistance of state membership "coordinators."

Also in 1986, Claude Malone delivered a classic speech at Kansas University Management School. Malone spoke eloquently of counties being the "Last Frontier in Local Government and the New Frontier for Professional Public Administration." Malone had previously served in 4 city administrations, and compared those experiences with working in Montgomery County. He described the differences between working as a professional manager in a county verses a city, including the size differential: "Counties are large in scale…We have within our boundaries 13 cities, all of which have city managers. Largeness in scale is one factor that separates management in counties from management in most cities. Just one of Montgomery County’s programs will be bigger than the entire budget of some of the city manager cities within the county boundary. The spectrum of involvement is greater. While city managers are buying patrol cars, county administrators are working with an entire justice system--catch 'em, keep 'em, rehab 'em, divert 'em, probate 'em, parole 'em. While city managers are dealing with better police management, county administrators are dealing with crime--the roots of; youth, drugs, alcohol. City managers may concern themselves with the homeless because they are on city streets or in their jails, but county administrators are working on the core problems--mental health, developmental disabilities, de-institutionalization, alcoholism. Whether you realize it or not, counties run most of the programs addressing the social ills of cities."

Malone went on to explain that MPA grads, and even existing city managers, ought to look at counties for career options in the future, because that’s where things are changing the fastest. He said: "Don't leave this MPA program or go back to your internship or job without considering the opportunities which are increasingly available in counties and other local governments regardless of form. Entirely too much emphasis has been given to form. Form and title will be less and less important in the future. John Naisbitt in his book Reinventing the Corporation says that in tomorrow’s organization there will be no titles, no bosses, and no managerial maps. Time and values are flattening the organizational pyramid. Commitment, not authority, produces results, Naisbitt says. County administrators, as in the words of country singer Waylon Jennings, have been 'working without a net.' County Administrators have been working all along with horizontal structures rather than vertical ones. County Administrators have been working with multiple turfs and hazy lines of demarcation. County Administrators were shifting to networking and people style management before cities knew what it meant... Counties are the last frontier in local government and the new frontier for professional public administrators."

In the late 1970's and certainly into the 1980's, studying county reorganization and restructuring county government to allow for professional administration became more popular. It was during this time that many counties became involved in citizen studies and initiatives resulting in more counties turning toward the appointed administrator form for the first time.In 1987, noted columnist Neal Peirce spoke to the "Committee on the Future" at the NACo legislative conference in Washington D.C. Peirce reflected on the previous 10 years, noting that little had changed in county government during that time. And stated that, "Where some transformation does seem to be creeping in is on the score of hired professional administrators, the county counterpart of the professional city manager. This has occurred to a fair degree across most types of counties of any size at all, but clearly in urban counties of a quarter million or more population. The International City Management Association, in fact, reports there’s a growing coterie of people in the 'urban management business,' professionals who are as much at home in, and often switching between, cities and counties. NACo’s own mailing list of county managers is up to some 600 or 700 now. The higher numbers are in part testimony to the fact that it’s easier to hire a professional manager than go through the political risk of trying to get voters to approve any formal change in a county’s structure of governance."

NACA membership increased substantially in 1987 when president David Krings of Peoria, Illinois, as part of a friendly competition among the NACA leadership to increase the membership base, developed the block state concept. During this time the membership grew to over 500, and the block state concept remains a viable method of retaining membership numbers within NACA today. During this time NACA bid out the association’s services contract, and received bids from both Al Siegel Associates (ASA) and ICMA (who agreed to work in conjunction with ASA). The bid was awarded to ASA, and Siegel went from newsletter editor to providing all services to the association for the next 14 years.

In the late 1980's there was the push to change ICMA's name to more appropriately reflect the growing county membership. Some county members found it rather difficult to explain their membership in a "city manager's" organization. Led by NACA and ICMA veterans such as Dave Krings, Pat Shalmy, Tom Lundy, and Bob McEvoy, among many others, ICMA was encouraged to change its name to the International City/County Management Association, while retaining the ICMA logo. As support built between both city and county members, ICMA executive director William Hansell authored various articles and letters explaining the name change, and arranged for an ICMA membership vote. The name change was passed by a substantial margin of the ICMA membership, and took effect in 1991. With the name change, and greater recognition of county issues, the ICMA "county committee," having accomplished most of its major objectives, passed into history.

In 1990, NACA decided to create a promotional video to advance the cause of professional administration in counties. With a $10,000 grant from NACA, and much support from Mecklenburg County manager Gerry Fox and his capable staff, Mort McBain of Wisconsin was tapped to lead the project. The video came out in mid-1991, and has been used since then as an effective tool for promoting professional management in counties, especially when coupled with the county administrator "brochure" assembled in 1993 by Bob McEvoy of New York. In 1995, ICMA provided the funds to update and publish this brochure that is still available. NACA also helped ICMA develop the Responsive County Government information packet in the early 1990's. In 1995, another important change took place when NACA members, under the leadership of president Jim Ley of Clark County, Nevada, voted to extend the president’s term to 2 years. It was felt that more could be accomplished with a longer term. As the 1990’s drew to a close, several changes were made by NACA leadership to better prepare NACA for the next millennium, including changing NACA’s 4 regions to conform to ICMA’s 5 regions. Several experimental regional "mini-conferences" were held in conjunction with ICMA's university, and several sessions were sponsored at NACo conferences, designed to bolster the case for professional management in counties. In 1997 NACA President, Mort McBain, appointed state "member representatives" in every state with members, and the long-term relationship with Al Siegel Associates was phased out in favor of a service agreement with ICMA. The newsletter was reformatted and production was set at 6 issues annually, membership dues were restructured, and finally, NACA was awarded status as a 501©(4) nonprofit organization by the Internal Revenue Service.


NACA continues to grow as a professional association, although membership numbers have rarely exceeded 550 in the 1990's. There is some evidence that there are at least as many as 1,000 appointed county administrators and managers operating in the nation’s counties, but many of them are not affiliated with NACA. These numbers offer great potential for recruitment and growth both within ICMA and NACA. In California, for example, which provided the very first president of NACA, and which could boast of having 5 presidents in the first 20 years of NACA the association has only recently become a block membership state.

In some western states, such as Utah, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, there are practically no county administrators. In Texas, with 254 counties, the most of any state, county administrators are nonexistent. In many other states the concept of professional administration in counties is a constant struggle. There is a constant thread that ties all states together under the umbrella of professional local government administration; that thread is ICMA. If NACA is to be successful, it must look to both ICMA and NACo to help carry out the mandate of improving county governance by the addition of trained professional managers and administrators. Clearly there is much work to be done.


Looking back at approximately 40 years of history, several trends become obvious. When NACA first started, it was common for the executive director and other support staff of NACo to attend each meeting of the NACA board. It seems obvious that NACA was seen as an important organization to NACo, due in large part to the supportive and committed attitude of NACo's first executive director, Bernie Hillenbrand. Over the years, the other affiliates, the political caucuses, and the political leadership of NACo have demanded and received more time and attention from senior NACo staff. In the future, NACA will have to find ways of supporting and contributing to the success of NACo or risk being relegated to just another affiliate with needs and demands imposing upon busy NACo staffers.


ICMA's relationship to NACA has evolved over the last many years. Beginning with the "county committee" of ICMA, the ICMA name change, and the election of county managers and administrators to both the ICMA Board and the ICMA presidency in recent years, NACA’s relationship with ICMA continues to strengthen. With the contractual agreement for member services now in place between NACA and ICMA, the foundation has been laid for even stronger relationships in the future. It is important to note, however, that just as the improved relationship has come because of many years of hard work by committed individuals in NACA and ICMA, so future relationships will not automatically improve without continued hard work and dedication. It would behoove the NACA leadership to continue to press for additional ICMA staff time to foster member recruitment and the growth of NACA. The potential for growth within NACA (and therefore also ICMA) is significant, and needs to be addressed under the auspices of the agreement. Only by combining a determined and focused NACA leadership with ICMA staff that truly are committed and dedicated to NACA’s well being can NACA hope to achieve its full potential in the next 40 years.




Marty Tarshes

Sacramento, California


A. E. Fuller

Fulton, Georgia


Christian Kahl

Baltimore, Maryland


Carl Johnson

Guildford, North Carolina


Harry Weatherly

Mecklenburg, North Carolina


T. M. Heggland

San Diego, California


Carlton Massey

Fairfax, Virginia


Lin Hollinger

Los Angeles, California


Sherwood Bennett

Macomb, Michigan


Ed Rath

Erie, New York

(died in office)


Mason Butcher

Montgomery, Maryland


G. R. House

Chesapeake, Virginia


Harland Patterson

St. Clair, Michigan


Charles Miller

Maricopa, Arizona


John Witherspoon

Guildford, North Carolina


Dan Murphy

Oakland, Michigan


Guy Millard

Somerset, New Jersey


George Gaekle

Stanislaus, California


Gerald McFadden

Summit, Ohio


Ardath Cade

Charles, Maryland

(resigned in 10/77)


David Nichols

San Mateo, California


William Gaskill

Cuyahoga, Ohio


Nick Meiszer

Chesterfield, Virginia


John Munn

Union, North Carolina


Marie Shook

Peoria, Illinois


Bruce Spaulding

Clark, Nevada


Buck Johnston

Campbell, Virginia


Larry Brown

Arlington, Virginia


Claude Malone

Montgomery, Ohio


Tom Lundy

Catawba, North Carolina


Dave Krings

Peoria, Illinois


Pat Shalmy

Clark, Nevada


Randy Terronez

Isabella, Michigan


Mike Bryant

Hall, Georgia


Ross Childs

Grand Traverse, Michigan


Terry Green

Jefferson, Colorado


John Wesley White

Sarasota, Florida


Harry Hayes

Hall, Georgia

(Pres. terms now changed to 2 years)


Jim Ley

Clark, Nevada


Mort McBain

Marathon, Wisconsin


Gene Smith

Freeborn, Minnesota


Pat Bean

Hillsborough, Florida


Peter Herlofsky

Crow Wing, Minnesota


Ray Bockman

DeKalb, Illinois


Kathleen Kelley

Douglas, Nebraska


Patrick Urich

Peoria, Illinois


Gene Smith

Dunn, Wisconsin


Peter Crichton

Cumberland, Maine


Robert Reece

Pottawatomie, Kansas


Peter Austin

McHenry, Illinois


Hannes Zacharias

Johnson, Kansas