SACRAMENTO — The League of California Cities® Past Presidents Council today announced the selection of two former League executive directors as recipients of the 2017 Past Presidents’ Lifetime Achievement Award. Don Benninghoven and Chris McKenzie received their honors on Sept. 13 during the opening General Session of the League’s 2017 Annual Conference & Expo in Sacramento.
Don’s tenure with the League spanned 40 years, 27 of which he served as executive director. He started with the League as a field representative, managed the League’s Los Angeles office and served as a lobbyist and assistant director before becoming the executive director in 1973. Don retired as executive director in 1998.
During his career, he served on numerous boards including the National League of Cities, the National Academy of Public Administration, the Governor’s Commission on Transportation Financing, the California State Constitution Revision Commission and the Governor’s Commission on Local Government Financing. In addition, several governors invited Don to advise on key policy issues affecting cities. He also helped co-found the Cities-Counties-Schools Partnership and served as the organization’s first executive director.
Chris McKenzie came to the League of California Cities from the Kansas Municipal League in 1999 and served as executive director until his retirement last October.
The League’s innovative Regional Public Affairs Manager Program was created at Chris’ direction. This program has been instrumental in ballot measure advocacy and legislative advocacy successes and is known nationwide for its effectiveness.
Under Chris’ leadership, the League launched its ballot measure advocacy to help strengthen and protect local authority and revenues. In 2004, he led the effort to pass Proposition 1A, which voters overwhelmingly approved to prevent the Legislature from taking and using local funds and preserves them for core local services.
In 2006 and 2008, the League joined forces with counties and other groups to defeat ballot measures to limit local land use authority. Chris also led the campaign to pass Prop. 22 in 2010, to add additional constitutional protections to city revenues. In addition, he guided the League’s efforts in numerous legislative battles and legal cases to protect local control, working with not only California city officials but broad coalitions of other organizations and stakeholders.
League Immediate Past President Dennis Michael presented Benninghoven and McKenzie with the awards and congratulated them on this achievement.
“Don’s contributions to the local government profession were multi-faceted. He dedicated decades to advocating for cities and building collaborative, lasting partnerships that remain strong today. City officials and their dedication to public service inspired Don and he commended all the city officials who contributed their time and energy advocate with the League on city priorities,” said Past President Michael.
“Chris built upon the great accomplishments of Don and created his own legacy at the League. The groundbreaking Regional Public Affairs Program, which he created, became a game changer for the League and helped advance the League’s legislative effectiveness in the Capitol and at the ballot box. He had a vision that ultimately transformed cities’ advocacy efforts to strengthen and protect local control,” added Michael.
The League Past Presidents’ Lifetime Achievement Award was established in 1996 and is given annually to an individual(s) who has made a significant and unique contribution to the state or his or her community over an extended period of years. Preference is given to nominees with close ties to cities; however, nominees may also be selected from the categories of local government leaders, academics/teachers, authors, media producers, community leaders and state or national leaders.
Established in 1898, the League of California Cities is a nonprofit statewide association that advocates for cities with the state and federal governments and provides education and training services to elected and appointed city officials.