GTS: An organization with roots back to 1976 – and relevance for today
Minnesota ranks sixth in the nation in the number of local government entities. This strong emphasis on local governance has its benefits but also its challenges. For example, how do local policy makers, staff, and appointed officials in diverse settings and from diverse backgrounds gain the knowledge to make informed decisions about the future of their communities and the skills to work effectively with other stakeholder groups?
In 1976, the Center for Urban and Regional Studies at the University of Minnesota convened a group of local government officials, state legislators, and higher education representatives to address this very question. GTS was the result. Originally structured as a public, joint powers organization, its governing members included the Association of Minnesota Counties, League of Minnesota Cities, Minnesota Association of Townships, Minnesota Regional Development Organizations, Minnesota School Boards Association, Minnesota State Colleges and Universities, State of Minnesota, and University of Minnesota.
The guiding principles behind the creation of GTS were to bring together the providers and consumers of education and training, to develop quality programs available to all local governments so that each local entity did not have to "reinvent the wheel," and to consider economies of scale. What emerged was a vehicle ideally suited for addressing intergovernmental and multi-sector educational needs.
Initial funding came from three-year foundation and federal grants. In 1981 a state appropriation was secured, which underwrote approximately 16% of the GTS operating budget. The remainder of GTS revenue was earned through registration fees, contracts for services, grants and private sector funding.
In 2003, GTS transitioned to a non-profit organization
Unfortunately, the appropriation we depended on was just one of many cuts made during the 2003 state legislative session to eliminate a projected $4 billion deficit. In addition, Local Government Aid was reduced significantly and legislation was passed limiting state contracts for the biennium. Finally, neighboring Minnesota Public Radio bought the building that housed the GTS office, forcing a search for new quarters. These factors converged to create an unpredictable future for GTS.
During nine months of discussion with representatives from the governing-member organizations, several things became clear: First, many clients wanted to continue working with GTS. Second, the staff's experience and expertise in collaborative efforts had potential benefits and applications for the nonprofit community as well. Finally, many new opportunities could be pursued through creation of a new structure, development of new products and services, and interaction with new audiences.
Consequently, the GTS governing board decided to officially dissolve the joint powers organization on March 31, 2004, and member organizations transferred the GTS name, intellectual property, contracts and monies to a newly incorporated nonprofit organization.
On April 1, 2004, staff came to work for the nonprofit Government Training Services, Inc., with a new board and expanded mission. Today, we consult with and conduct educational events for thousands of public and nonprofit participants each year, and the State of Minnesota continues to endorse us with legislation requiring state agencies to consider using services of GTS before contracting with other outside vendors for similar services.