By Bonny M. Fetch (ND), Past-President and NAHO Historian/Archivist
This article is a factual outline of some of the highlights of NAHO’s inception and early development and some of my own insights from my research and long involvement in NAHO, as well as interviews with several Past- Presidents of NAHO who contributed information for this article, namely Rafael Garbalosa, Travis Benford, Ellen Anderson, and Sharon Kulp.
History is important. The past is the foundation upon which NAHO was built. This quote by David McCullough expresses well the importance of knowing our past. “History is who we are and why we are the way we are.”
I have been a member of NAHO since 1991 and served on the Board from 2002-2015. I have experienced some of NAHO's growing pains and have been privileged to know and work with some of the early members of the organization. The history of NAHO is fascinating. It is the success story of a small organization which came from humble beginnings, but through the vision of its early leaders and hard work and dedication of time and personal resources of members willing to serve on the Board through the years, it has grown to earn an enviable place among national organizations of its kind.
The early seed which ultimately grew into the formation of a national organization of hearing officers was sown by William “Bill” Kane, Chief of Fair Hearings in the Connecticut Department of Income Maintenance, later named Department of Social Services. In an early publication I read that Bill Kane was called “the father of NAHO.” In 1981, he explored whether there was interest among hearing officers of all the states for networking and sharing concerns and problems common to all hearing officers. He discussed this with Linda Wolf, Associate Director of the American Public Welfare Association.
In 1985, Stephen R. Davis, Administrator of the Office of Fair Hearings of the New Hampshire Division of Human Services offered to have his agency sponsor a joint conference with the National Judicial College. That conference took place in 1986 in Bedford, New Hampshire. At that conference, hearing officials informally discussed the need to establish an organization for the purpose of gathering and sharing information and providing for continuing education of hearing officials. Bill Kane and Stephen Davis pursued their dream of a national organization. They issued a joint letter to hearing officers across the country asking whether they had interest in forming an organization to further the education and professional status of public assistance adjudicators. Together they made visits to hearings offices to garner interest in the idea. Their efforts paid off.
NAHO was officially formed the following year, in 1987. The 1987 conference was held in Merrimack, New Hampshire, again co-sponsored by the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services and the National Judicial College. At a meeting on September 21, 1987, attendees officially established a hearings association and voted to affiliate with the American Public Welfare Association (APWA). Bill Kane served as the first president in 1987 and 1988.
Representatives from Connecticut and Massachusetts met to draft the first bylaws and to name the association. The name those founders chose is the name we still have today, the National Association of Hearing Officials (NAHO). NAHO’s first conference was held in 1988, hosted by the National Judicial College in Reno, Nevada.
Phyllis Bennett, Pennsylvania, served as NAHO’s second president in 1989. The 1989 conference was held in Cincinnati, Ohio, in association with the National Judicial College.
Rafael Garbalosa, Connecticut, third president of NAHO, served in 1990 and 1991. The 1990 conference was held in San Antonio, Texas, hosted by the Texas Department of Human Services. The theme of Conference 1990 was “No Room for Bias.” There were several notable achievements during Rafael’s term, including implementation of the NAHO logo, the NAHO newsletter, and the NAHO Code of Ethics for Hearing Officials.
The 1991 conference, “Scales of Justice” was held in Mystic, Connecticut. In October 1991, NAHO published its first newsletter.
Truett DeMoisey, Kentucky, served as NAHO’s fourth president in 1992. The 1992 conference, “We Hold These Rights” was held in Greensboro, North Carolina. One of NAHO’s awards, the Professionalism Award, is named in honor of Truett DeMoisey. Truett was the first recipient of the award in 1998. In being given the award, Truett was described as a person who “embodies the attitude, ethical standards, and fair consideration that mark a professional in the hearings field.”
NAHO’s fifth president, Pat Shelby, North Carolina, served in 1993. “Justice in Transition” was the theme for the 1993 conference, which was held in Rapid City, South Dakota. Pat Shelby was responsible for developing a conference planning manual which defines all aspects of the planning process and provides a road map for conferences. Among other things, the manual specifies the need for a conference theme. I have included the themes of all the conferences in this article. During Pat’s term, mid-year Board meetings were established to further NAHO team building and as an opportunity to meet and work with host state officials.
Travis Benford, Texas, was NAHO’s sixth president in 1994. He recalled that in its developmental years, there were four big challenges facing NAHO, those being membership, budget issues, publicity/status among hearing officers and ALJs, and credibility with state agencies which funded tuition and travel to the conferences. A big boost for NAHO came in 1993 when the conference was held in Rapid City, South Dakota. For that conference, Governor Bill Mickelson gave a ringing endorsement of NAHO in letters to the governors and welfare agencies in all 50 states, explaining the benefits of NAHO.
The 1994 conference, titled “Due Process” was held in New Orleans, Louisiana. NAHO took two more major steps forward that year. First, a committee was formed to develop a certification program for Hearing Officials and Administrative Law Judges for the purpose of developing uniform standards of excellence and professionalism. Second, NAHO established a library of seminars filmed at the South Dakota conference and appointed its first Librarian.
Susan LaRose, Connecticut, served as the seventh president in 1995. That year, NAHO sponsored its first joint conference with the National Association of Administrative Law Judges (NAALJ). The joint conference, “Administrative Law: Working Together” was held in Williamsburg, Virginia. The first applications for certification were accepted that year and NAHO certified thirteen Hearing Officials (CHOs) and one Administrative Law Judge (CALJ).
Jane DeLeon, Texas, NAHO’s eighth president, served in 1996-1997. The 1996 conference “Administrative Hearings: The Next Generation” was held in San Antonio, Texas. The 1997 conference was held in Seattle, Washington, and the theme was “Access into Justice: The Administrative Hearing.”
Kristal Wiitala Knutson, Washington, NAHO’s ninth president, served in 1998-1999. The conference in 1998, “Professionalism in Administrative Law” was held in Louisville, Kentucky. A major change occurred that year. NAHO members unanimously voted at the membership meeting to leave the parent organization, American Public Human Services Association, and form a new, independent organization, NAHO, Inc. President Knutson signed the document creating NAHO on October 17, 1998. NAHO was incorporated as a non-profit organization in the state of Kentucky.
The 1999 conference, titled “What’s Past is Prologue” was held in Santa Fe, New Mexico. That title has always interested me, but now, looking from a historical perspective, it strikes me as a particularly fitting choice for a conference theme at a time when NAHO was forging a new, independent path, and yet recognizing the importance of the past being a preface to its future. I really like that, it gives a sense of solidity in an organization which realizes that building on the structure of its past makes for a strong base. In the November 1998 newsletter, President Knutson wrote the headline article, “NAHO: A New Start”, in which she explained the reason for the separation, and very succinctly states the mission of NAHO:
“This decision was not lightly or quickly made and came after years of consideration and preparation. Especially recently, it has become clear that our missions have diverged and that we wish to attract different members. The focus of APHSA is on human services policies and agencies and that of NAHO is to improve the professionalism of hearing officials for all government agencies. While we are mindful of our history in human services, we believe we can better serve our customer agencies and clients by including in our training and other activities attorney and non-attorney adjudicators who work within or for any agency or program.”
Sharon Kulp, Kentucky, was NAHO’s tenth president. She served in 2000-2001. In 2000, the conference was held in Norfolk, Virginia. The theme of the conference was “Examining the Examiner.” The Board of Directors Award was established that year, the purpose being to recognize someone who was not serving on the Board and who had made significant, sustaining contributions to NAHO. Bill Kane, NAHO’s first president, was the first recipient of the award in 2000. The annual award is now named in lasting honor of Bill Kane.
The 2001 conference was scheduled to be held in Fort Worth, Texas, on September 23- 26, 2001, but was canceled due to the tragic events of September 11, 2001. Up until the current pandemic of COVID-19, 2001 stood out as the only year in which there had been no conference since NAHO’s inception.
David Stebing, Washington, was NAHO’s eleventh president. He served in 2002-2003. The 2002 conference was held in Anchorage, Alaska. The theme of that year’s conference was “Changing Times: Unchanging Standard of Justice.” The 2003 conference, “Back to Basics – Fundamentals for All Administrative Hearing Officials” was held in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Ellen Anderson, Washington, was NAHO’s twelfth president. She served two 2-year terms, from 2004-2007. Ellen recalled how difficult it was when the 2001 conference had to be canceled because of 9/11, both for NAHO and for the hotel. The following year in Anchorage was still difficult and Board meetings were tense. Ellen recalled that the goal in those years was mostly just to hold things together. But NAHO bounced back. The 2004 conference, “Tall in the Saddle: Being the Best” was held in Fort Worth, Texas, and was a good conference. In 2005, the conference was held in Durham, North Carolina. The theme that year was “Taking the Bull By the Horns: Finding Balance in Administrative Hearings.” The 2006 conference, “Bismarck Rendezvous: Discovering Solutions That Work” was held in Bismarck, North Dakota. In 2007, the conference was held in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The theme of the conference was “Santa Fe: Where the Trails Meet – Exploring Our Strengths and Differences.” Ellen recalled the 2002 conference in Alaska in which the scenery was jaw-dropping from the dining room at the top of Captain Cook. Another conference stood out in her mind, the 2006 conference in Bismarck, which featured the banquet at Fort Lincoln State Park during which a highlight was the experience of being out on the prairie at sundown.
Bonny Fetch, North Dakota, served as NAHO’s thirteenth president, serving two terms from 2008-2009 and 2010-2011. The 2008 conference, “Striving for Excellence in the Hearing Process” was held in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. In 2009, the conference was held in Boise, Idaho, with the theme being “Scaling the Heights: New Dimensions in Administrative Hearings.” Nashville, Tennessee, was the site of the 2010 conference, “Fine Tune Your Hearing Skills.” In 2011, NAHO returned to Santa Fe, New Mexico. The theme of the 2011 conference was “Administrative Adjudication: Keeping Focused in Challenging Times.” Some of the major accomplishments of Bonny’s term were establishment of an Ethics Complaint Process, establishment of an organizational budget, upgrading NAHO’s website, and restructuring the Board to downsize from 22 to 12 Board members.
NAHO’s fourteenth president, Norman Patenaude, New Hampshire, served two terms, 2012-2013 and 2014-2015. The 2012 conference, “Roundup on the Riverwalk” was held in San Antonio, Texas. The 2013 conference was held in St. Paul, Minnesota, with the theme being “Twin Tracks in the Twin Cities: Basic and Advanced Training for Hearing Officials.” The 2014 conference was held in Charleston, South Carolina, with the theme being “The Charm of Charleston: Where History Lives – Administrative Hearings from Beginning to End.” The 2015 conference, themed “Southwestern Skies: Professional Development in the ‘West’s Most Western Town’” was held in Scottsdale, Arizona. Janice Deshais, Connecticut, NAHO’s fifteenth president, served two terms, 2016-2017 and 2018-2019. The 2016 conference was held in Portland, Oregon; the 2017 conference was held in Washington, DC; the 2018 conference was held in San Diego, California; and New Orleans, Louisiana, was the location of the 2019 conference. Toni Boone, Oregon, was elected NAHO’s sixteenth president and is currently serving the 2020-2021 term.
Back to the quote from David McCullough at the beginning of this article. How can we understand and be proud of who we are today without knowing where we came from and how the organization has evolved and transformed to keep up with ever changing needs of its members while staying true to its mission? Knowledge of NAHO’s development and evolution is the key to stability and continuity. While we forge ahead to incorporate new ways to carry out NAHO’s mission to improve the administrative hearing process through promoting professionalism and by providing training, continuing education, a national forum for discussion of issues, and leadership concerning administrative hearings, we are also mindful that we are the trustees of NAHO’s legacy.