Byron Katsuyama Retires: Thanks for the Privilege of Serving Washington Local Governments for 43 Years
I first learned about MRSC in Spring of 1978 when I was finishing up my BA in Political Science at the University of Washington (UW). One of my professors sent me and a couple of my classmates to meet with John Lamb, who was MRSC’s Executive Director at the time, and interview him as part of a research project we were working on. We were trying to gauge the impacts of I-276, the state public disclosure law, on the willingness of folks to run for local offices. John was very gracious and was a big help to us in completing our research. It turned out that this was no small hurdle, particularly the personal income reporting requirements, for many of the local officials that we interviewed.
Later that summer, after I graduated, I called John and volunteered to work for MRSC as a summer intern. To my great surprise and delight, he agreed not only to hire me, but to pay me too! My first office was in the janitor’s closet, complete with a utility sink, an IBM Selectric typewriter, and a ladder to the roof of the building, and I couldn’t have been happier. That was the unlikely beginning to what became a 43-year career as an MRSC Public Policy and Management Consultant. I only realized in hindsight that such openings did not occur very often, and I had just happened to show up when this one did. Looking back, I have always wondered if it was divine providence or just good luck, although now I’m inclined to believe that it was more of the former.
When I first started working at MRSC in July 1978, we shared a small two-story building with the Association of Washington Cities (AWC), just off of UW campus. I still remember my first day, being introduced to Kent Swisher, AWC’s Executive Director, and Stan Finkelstein, the Assistant Director. Peter King also worked in that old U-District office for a time, and I was so pleased to see him assume the position of AWC’s Executive Director in 2015.
I spent my first four years at MRSC as a research assistant working under the supervision of Dr. Ernest Campbell, MRSC’s Municipal Law Specialist, and pursuing my master’s degree in public administration (MPA) at the UW’s Graduate School of Public Affairs (GSPA), now the Evan’s School. I was never completely sure if “Dr. C,” as we used to call him, knew that I was working on my MPA and not my JD, as he proceeded to give me a pretty good education in the field of municipal law, which has served me well for all these years. To this day, the Washington State Association of Municipal Attorneys gives out an annual lifetime achievement award for excellence in the practice of municipal law in his name. It was my great privilege to have been able to work with and learn so much from Dr. C.
It took me four years to complete GSPA’s two-year program, working part-time at MRSC, but when I graduated, John Lamb offered me a full-time position as MRSC’s first Public Policy Consultant. The years that followed were a fascinating and exciting time to be working at MRSC, as they encompassed the introduction of computers into the workplace and the equally amazing Internet that promised to connect everyone to a “world wide web.” Of course, all of these developments in technology were perfect for MRSC’s primary mission, which has always been to provide accurate information and advice to Washington local governments as quickly and as efficiently as possible.
So, we got to work building our first website complete with local and national news, a searchable documents database, a comprehensive set of subject pages, and later, blogs, training events, and more. I also had the opportunity to participate in the development of our first e-newsletters which allowed us to push much of the information on our website out to a subscriber base that has grown now to nearly 30,000. In my own community of Kirkland, I had the honor of serving on the city’s planning commission for eight years and to learn firsthand about the hard work and dedication of locally elected and appointed officials and staff.
I feel so blessed and privileged to have had the opportunity to spend my career at MRSC serving cities and towns, then county governments, and now many special districts as well. I couldn’t have had that opportunity anywhere else. In fact, that statement is literally true since MRSC is almost entirely unique in the country. The only other organization that comes close to the MRSC model is the Municipal Technical Advisory Service (MTAS) in Tennessee.
One of my only regrets over all of the years that I have been a part of MRSC, is the fact that there are still, with the exception of MTAS in Tennessee, no other states that have an organization serving their local governments quite like MRSC. I strongly believe that local governments in every state would benefit greatly from having the support of an MRSC-like organization. Whenever I have had the opportunity either at national conferences or in other contacts with out-of-state officials, I have always encouraged them to take a look at the MRSC model and consider championing the concept in their state.
Believe it or not, MRSC will be celebrating its 100th anniversary in just fifteen years. I think it would be a worthy tribute, if by the time we reach that amazing milestone, we could also celebrate the successful transfer of the MRSC model to at least two or three other states. That may be just enough to spark its adoption in many more states.
As I head off for some new adventures, I would like to leave you lovers of local government with a challenge and a request: to take any opportunity you have in the future to spread the word about the good work that MRSC does for local governments in Washington, to your colleagues in other states, and to encourage them to become a champion for the concept in their state.
So, thank you John, thank you Dr. C., and thanks to all of you for the privilege of making my small contribution to the success of local government in Washington State. I couldn’t be happier. If you would like to contact me, I can be reached at email@example.com.
MRSC is a private nonprofit organization serving local governments in Washington State. Eligible government agencies in Washington State may use our free, one-on-one Ask MRSC service to get answers to legal, policy, or financial questions.