In May 2013, I was honored to be elected president of the National Conference of Black Mayors (NCBM), an organization that has a strong and storied history. I accepted this assignment because I believe that the cause and purpose of the NCBM is as relevant today as it was when it was launched by a group of 13 Black southern mayors who were elected during the decade following the civil rights and voting rights acts of 1964 and 1965. The organization expanded to have national reach in 1976, and over the years has established a legacy built by Black leaders, including Harold Washington, Andrew Young and Maynard Jackson.
The premise on which the organization was founded is still very much alive and needed today. The notion that Black elected officials can come together to help define and drive an agenda for the African American community is real. There are more than 600 Black mayors throughout the country today. The cities they lead combine to represent 14.5 percent of the nation’s population. If we can harness the power and potential that our Black leaders have, we can realize significant change for our communities.
Unfortunately, NCBM’s legacy—and very existence—is in jeopardy. Upon taking the organizational reins, our new leadership team—elected at the annual meeting on May 30—discovered that the NCBM has lost its nonprofit status as a result of not filing its tax returns, has several lawsuits and liens pending for not paying its bills, and has recently lost its office space (among other issues).
Fortunately, we have a group of like-minded mayors from across the nation—William Bell, Johnny Ford, Mary Ajoku, Patrick Green, William Johnson, and John White and joined by distinguished former mayors including Wellington Webb, Ron Kirk, Shirley Franklin, and Doug Palmer—who have set out to help us take the necessary steps to put the NCBM back on a healthy footing and again make it relevant on the national stage.
Taking the necessary steps will not be quick or easy. Further, to restore confidence in NCBM we are committed to three imperatives—transparency, accountability, and setting a new vision.
To achieve transparency we must know and be upfront with our condition as an organization. To this end, we’ve engaged the law firm of Ballard Spahr (who are working pro bono) to conduct a full investigative audit of NCBM’s legal, operational and financial issues. We have gone to court to ensure that the organization is required to preserve and supply all documents pertaining to the operations of NCBM so that we can have a full and complete picture of the situation we are in and the challenges we face. Once we complete the audit, we will put together an action plan and will share that with our stakeholders.
Next, we are demanding accountability. While this is not about placing blame and finding fault, it is about restoring the reputation of the National Conference of Black Mayors. In order to do that, it is incumbent upon us to take full responsibility for all the issues that are uncovered during the audit. While we fully acknowledge that this may involve facing some brutal facts and making some difficult decisions, it is our fiduciary responsibility to do so swiftly, and we will.
Last, this is an opportunity for the NCBM leadership team to define a new vision for the organization and then execute it. The National Conference of Black Mayors must be one of the most important and influential forces in our country. We should be supporting President Barack Obama, giving him insights into what our communities need at the local level and advocating for that change. NCBM should be a pre-eminent organization that is leading the charge to create a better reality for Black people in America through a nationally-relevant agenda.
We are confident that we can meet these challenges through each of these imperatives, and make a new vision for this organization a reality. We have the leadership team in place and we have the resolve to do it. We have benefited from support from partners over the years and we will endeavor to renew their confidence in us.
Kevin Johnson is the mayor of Sacramento, Calif.
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