Award for Skill in Intergovernmental Relations

Public Management, October 1996 | Go to article overview

Award for Skill in Intergovernmental Relations


ICMA's Award for Skill in Interrgovernmental Relations is presented to a member who has demonstrated significant success in representing his or her local government's policies at the state and/or federal level in such a way that regulatory or mandate relief is granted or legislative change effected that enables the local jurisdiction to better serve its citizens. This year, ICMA presents the award to John L. Pape, former city manager of Ada, Oklahoma.

For many Oklahoma cities, intergovernmental relations involve representing a community's interests not only at the state and federal governments levels, but with the sovereign nations of Native American tribes. In late 1994, shortly after his appointment as city manager of Ada (population 17,000), John Pape initiated negotiations with tribal leaders in an effort to overcome past differences and develop mutually beneficial intergovernmental relations with the Chickasaw Nation.

Like all Native American tribes in Oklahoma, the Chickasaw Nation enjoys sovereign-nation status, that is, it is recognized by a U.S. government treaty that exempts tribal property from state and local laws and grants the Chickasaw Nation full authority to operate a separate and independent government. Despite the Chickasaw Nation's presence as one of the town's largest and economically significant employers, little cooperation traditionally had existed between city and tribal leaders. The only cooperative link between the two had been an annual exchange of tribal payments in lieu of taxes for certain city services, a privilege that ultimately was withdrawn in a dispute over the terms of the agreement.

Although trust between the city and tribe had deteriorated, Mr. Pape, who approached relations with the tribal nation in the same way he does with the state or federal government, was determined to work cooperatively with the Chickasaw Nation through a City/Tribal Intergovernmental Relations Program. By actively reaching out to the Chickasaw Nation, Mr. Pape gained the trust of tribal leaders. First, he demonstrated his commitment through a proposal that the tribe and city explore the cross-deputization of Ada's police officers, allowing them to assist an under-staffed tribal police operation and giving Ada's officers authority on tribal properties within the city. Without the proposed cross-deputization, Ada officers had no legal authority on tribal lands, forcing tribal police to respond without assistance regardless of the distance involved. …

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