Minnesota Government Finance Officers Association

Promoting excellence and leadership in the government finance profession

MnGFOA History

The Early Years

Prior to 1963 Minnesota government finance officials, who found themselves in need of a professional association, had the option of becoming members of 1) the Government Finance Officers Association of the United States and Canada (GFOA, formed in1906); 2) the League of Minnesota Cities (LMC), originated in 1916 as apart of the University of Minnesota Extension Division; and/or 3) the Municipal Clerks Association (later known as the Municipal Clerks and Finance Officers Association (MCFOA)), which was part of the Minnesota League of Cities. Most local government finance officials belonged to the League-affiliated Municipal Clerks Association as many had job descriptions that included all or part of the normal municipal clerk duties.

In the early 1960’s, a group of suburban finance officials met periodically at a restaurant, which would later become Nicklows. It was located in the Golden Valley / Robbinsdale area on Highway 100 (the restaurant is no longer there). Regular attendees included Jerry Dalen, Earl Hanson, John Murphy, Miles Johnson, Marvin Brunsell, Doerr Veth, Milo Hall, as well as a few others.

In 1963, the Minnesota League of Cities held its annual convention at the Saulpaugh Hotel in Mankato, at which time 15 finance officers met in a room at the Burton Hotel and discussed, then organized, the Minnesota Chapter of the Government Finance Officers Association. The 15 initial members included Earl Foley and Mert Watson from Anoka; Norm Werner from Coon Rapids; Marv Brunsell from Fridley; Bob Bullock from Brooklyn Center; Coerr Veth from Robbinsdale; Miles Johnson from Crystal; John Murphy from Golden Valley; Earl Hanson from St. Louis Park; Jerry Dalen from Edina; Chris Nielsen from Hopkins; Ed Moline from Richfield; Milo Hall from Bloomington; Donald Labrasseur from Willmar; and a member from the Bloomington School District who we were not able to identify as of this writing. Only the top governmental finance official could hold membership in this newly created Minnesota Chapter of GFOA as mandated by GFOA, the national organization.

The 15 pioneers met at frequent intervals to continue to compare notes, happy to be away from the “city clerk stuff” that was, for the most part, not in their area of responsibility. Some original members; however,doubled as City Clerks. The chapter remained affiliated with the LMC in that it held its annual business meeting and participated with the League in educational efforts as part of the annual League conference held usually in April. In the early 70’s the chapter changed the bylaws by opening the membership rolls to all governmental employees. The organization continued to be known as the “Minnesota Chapter, GFOA” until some time in the 1980’s when the name was changed to the Minnesota Government Finance Officers Association (MGFOA). Eventually the acronym changed to MnGFOA.

In those early organizational years, the members focused on such things as utility billing, liquor store operations, information management, payroll, bond issuance and other enterprise and special revenue type accounting needs. Most local government officials and their staffs did not have the experience to become expert in all of these areas so they needed to share information, successes and failures with each other. At that time, college or technical school was not available to meet that day-to-day need for training.

Legislated mandates produced additional demands for new financial management expertise such as the coordination of the Public Employees Retirement Association program and social security. Many local government employees, including cities, counties, and school district non-teaching employees, had been asking for the option to join a coordinated retirement program for years. Coordination had been available to state employees and teachers, but not the others. The state sales tax program was established in 1967. Prior to that time, cities had shared only a minimum of the state-collected revenues, which included a minor portion of the revenues of state liquor and tobacco taxes. Larger cities did, however, share in some gasoline tax revenues. At this time the legislature adopted the three percent state sales tax that was to be shared with local governments. The cities that had liquor stores and/or bars would also be collectors of the tax, the same as any other retail establishment.

The Legislature also limited the amount of property taxes that government agencies could levy. Thus, cities entered the era of “cut back” management and the need for even more information sharing regarding “special levies” and related topics.

Given these considerations and the resulting need for a more coordinated effort to educate members, the MnGFOA began holding seminars to educate members. The earliest seminars were initially presented at the Crystal City Hall, somewhat centrally located and larger than other available facilities. Speakers from the PERA state office and from the Department of Revenue agreed to make presentations and to respond to questions. A separate date was selected for each topic. Invitations were sent to all cities, counties, and school districts in the Metropolitan Area, and to various state offices. The seminars were of substance, something other than a luncheon and bull throwing“good-old-boys” club, which some observers had called the chapter during its very early years when only the top finance officials were eligible for membership.


MnGFOA Grows

By 1972, actions were taken to meet the ever-increasing need for additional education. Monthly meetings, which included a topical presentation, were held regularly. Several different locations were used including Nicklows on Highway 100 and the Twins Motor Inn on University Avenue near the University of Minnesota campus. Several times a year, monthly meetings were held in outstate Minnesota to better accommodate members in the St. Cloud, Rochester, Mankato, and other outlaying areas. The annual business meeting was also coupled with more educational opportunities. The business meeting date was moved to May so members could attend both the League annual meeting in April and the MnGFOA annual business meeting and seminars. In 1974, the first May annual meeting was held in a hotel in St. Paul. The next year the annual meeting and conference was expanded to three days and moved to the Quadna Mountain Resort facility in Hill City. In 1976, the annual meeting and conference was moved to Arrowwood in Alexandria.


GFOA of the United States and Canada Participation

In either the late 50’s or early 60’s, Earl Hanson from St. Louis Park served a three-year term on the Executive Committee of the GFOA. In 1975, Thomas Moran from Richfield was elected and served a three-year term. In the mid 1980’s, many members of small cities felt that the GFOA needed to make more of its resources available to smaller cities. Several MnGFOA members teamed with other members from throughout the United States and Canada to convince the GFOA staff and executive committee to do so. As a result, GFOA staff members were made available for providing technical assistance at regional and state seminars. Seminar materials were developed nationally and made available to state organizations who wished to use them. Minnesota made good use of these opportunities. Minnesota was also one of the major contributors of volunteer talent to staff the GFOA standing committees such as the Cash Management, Debt Management, Budget, and Accounting and Auditing committees. The MnGFOA treasury has always been very liberal with donations to GASB. MnGFOA members have a long track record of commenting on proposed regulatory changes both individually and as members of GFOA standing committees.

In 1996, Gary Norstrem from St. Paul became the third MnGFOA member to serve a three-year term on the Executive Committee. He was then elected as President Elect in 1990 and was elevated to President in1991. GFOA staff, Past Presidents, and many members count Gary as one of the best Presidents to ever hold the highest of GFOA offices. In 1992, Linda Scheimo was elected to serve on the GFOA Executive Committee. Linda also chaired the 1994 GFOA convention in Minneapolis. The mostrecent member to serve on the GFOA Executive Committee is Al Rolek who was elected in 2007.


Associate MGFOA Membership

Many associate members have been a vital resource to MnGFOA by providing technical assistance and leading seminars for the benefit of the active members. Thomas J. Moran is one of the prominent members of MnGFOA who joined as an associate member when he was a public accountant who audited Minnesota cities, counties and school districts. In 1967, Tom became an active member when he was appointed as the Director of Finance and Clerk-Treasurer of the City of Richfield, a position he held until his death in 1979. During that time be became one of the most active members on both the MnGFOA and GFOA. Tom served MnGFOA by moving though the officer ranks becoming president in 1972-73. During that time he served whenever called upon to chair committees, to present papers, and to serve as a panelist at educational seminars. Tom is also remembered for his contributions to the governmental finance profession as an educator. He worked closely with the Anoka-Ramsey Community College and the Government Training Service(GTS) to develop and teach the first accredited government finance courses. Tom attracted many new members to MnGFOA through his appearances as a lecturer at the college level as well as at seminars throughout the state. Tom died on July 24, 1979 at age 48, after suffering a heart attack. In 1980, MnGFOA established the Thomas J.Moran Award, which is presented to individuals who have clearly demonstrated that they have made an outstanding effort toward the improvement of public financial administration as best exemplified by Thomas J. Moran.

Thomas J.Moran Award Recipients

John Lilja was also an associate member. From 1980 to 1992, John was the chair of the MnGFOA Accounting and Financial Reporting Committee. He would provide annual seminars for the benefit of those members who were aspiring to achieve the coveted GFOA Certificate of Achievement in Excellence in Financial Reporting Award. He touched many people as an educator through his many professional association memberships and other accounting-related organizations. John was willing to answer individual questions and would take the time to informally review reports of individual jurisdictions to help them improve their reporting to the point they could submit and receive the award. Without his encouragement and technical assistance, the Financial Reporting Award program in Minnesota would not have gained recognition as one of the finest in GFOA. In 1981, John was honored as the first recipient of the Thomas J. Moran Award for his outstanding effort to improve the public financial administration as best exemplified by Thomas J. Moran. In 1989, MnGFOA began awarding an annual undergraduate scholarship to student(s) majoring in accounting. Shortly after his death in 1994, MnGFOA renamed the annual scholarship(s) in his honor and dedicated the John B. Lilja Undergraduate Scholarship in his memory.

John B. Lilja Undergraduate Scholarship Recipients

The Social Side of MnGFOA

While all gatherings of the MnGFOA members were in some part social, there exists a long history of planned social events. They include suchthings as golf outings with putting contests continuing on the practice greens well after dark, boat outings, baseball games, and theater attendance. In 2002, MnGFOA members participated in a social gathering where they learned the art of making “Home Brew” beer. GFOA members had not partaken in such an event since the repeal of prohibition in 1933.

Beginning in the mid 1970’s, MnGFOA annually authorized the rental of a hospitality room at each of the GFOA conferences to meet the needs of the attendees and their families while at the conference city. The President was, at least during the earlier years, responsible to transport the official MnGFOA coffee pot during his or her term of office, supply the room with fresh coffee and snacks, and maybe even some homemade sausage. A further obligation of the President was to solicit donations to buy liquid refreshments. The room was used throughout the conference as a gathering place everymorning, late afternoon and evening. When the coffee pot wore out, that tradition fell by the wayside, as did the solicitation of donations from active and associate members to fund this event. The annual hospitality room event continued in one form or another until 1997 when this event was replaced by a member reception.

Recent History

MnGFOA continues to grow with 2007 membership at approximately 650. For the 2005 reporting year, 120 entities in Minnesota received the CAFR award and 29 received the Budget award. MnGFOA is participating with GFOA in the Certified Public Finance Officer Program. As of 2006, there are 10 members who have received the distinction of CPFO in Minnesota.

MnGFOA also participates with the GFOA in the Advanced Government Finance Institute. Each year, the MnGFOA awards a scholarship(s) for members to attend the institute. In 2005, the scholarship was renamed the Lori Ann Webster Advanced Government Finance Institute Scholarship in honor of the outstanding contributions that Lori made to the association through her leadership and the inspiration she has given to so many of its members before, during, and after her battle with cancer. Lori was an active member of the organization from 1987 until 2005, and she was the first chair of the organization’s Education Committee. Lori was diagnosed during her term of President in 2004. She courageously battled with her illness and lost that battle on June 15, 2005 during her term as Past-President.

Lori Ann Webster Scholarship Recipients

The membership directory has been enhanced to include a membership resource guide. An official website now served the needs of the organization along with the option for email receipt of the monthly newsletter. In 1999, the MnGFOA began funding an internship program. Participation in the annual Student Accounting and Auditing Conference began in recent years. One of the latest major challenges is the implementation of changes necessitated by GASB 34. In 2005, a survey was sent out to all members asking them for feedback on services and needs. This resulted in quarterly trainings being implemented in 2006 on specific topics identified by this survey and other enhancements to service, which arecurrently being worked on. In 2005 a contest was held among the membership to create a new logo. Tom Pepper, from the City of Eagan, was the winner and author of the new logo unveiled at the 2005 conference. 2006 was a year of change; besides the implementation of quarterly trainings and the new logo, credit card payments were accepted for the first time. A sub-committee known as the Conference site committee was formed to look at options for the annual conference. This committee was co-chaired by Tom Kelly and Al Rolek, and various sites and locations around the state were explored. In 2007 the board voted to keep the conference at Arrowwood. The other sites are now being considered for future quarterly training sites to expand our offerings in locations more accessible to all members. 2007 also saw the change of the Technology committee from an ad-hoc to a standing committee.



Throughout the years, MnGFOA has been blessed with very talented members who contributed their time and personal effort to enhance the opportunities of its ever-increasing membership. Hundreds have chaired or served on the many committees that are needed to meet the needs of members. Many more have served as lecturers, panelists, and presenters at the local and national levels. Some have answered the call to serve as officers of the organization. MnGFOA owes a debt of gratitude to each and every individual who served in any capacity, no matter how large or small, to make MnGFOA the fine professional association that it is today. Special thanks go to those who, after many years serving as officers, went on to become president.

MnGFOA Past Presidents

Contributors to this document were Norman Werner, Miles Johnson, Gary Norstrem and Sharon Legg. Most of this document was compiled by Lyle Haney in April 2004 and updated by Sue Iverson in 2007. In an effort to complete our history and to continuously update this document, please contact Sue Iverson for any changes or other information that should be included.