The CSG Henry Toll Fellowship: Toll Fellows on the Impact of the Program 

 Since 1986, the Henry Toll Fellowship has been an essential part of CSG outreach initiatives. The annual gathering has strived to accelerate growth for each selected participant in their roles as state leaders and public servants. To date, the Henry Toll Fellowship program has vetted more than 1,370 alumni that have gone on to illustrious careers in public policy and beyond.

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CSG Celebrates 90 Years

By Trey Delida

For 90 years, The Council of State Governments has pursued the advancement of common good in state government. CSG is among some of public policy’s most influential nonpartisan, nonprofit organizations that represent state and local government. 

It all began in 1925 when Henry Wolcott Toll, who was then a Colorado state senator, envisioned an organization that would convene state leaders and improve legislative standards — together. The result of that vision was the American Legislators Association, the first iteration of what would soon become The Council of State Governments.

As the organization gained traction, interstate issues became more prevalent. Toll knew to achieve his original vision, the scope of his organization had to include the federal government and state administrative officials. In a letter to ALA board members, Toll wrote that the ALA’s role was evolving and that it was no longer a service organization solely for legislators. Simultaneously, ALA engaged in undertaking “an attempt for harmony in state activities between state and state, and between state and nation.” 

It wasn’t until Oct. 22, 1933, when a group of state legislators gathered at the Penn Harris Hotel in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, that CSG was born. Though there is no official record of the meeting, Henry Toll recalled it nearly 25 years later as the conception of CSG. 

“Probably 12 or 15 of us sat around a table in a small room,” Toll said. “The Council of State Governments had never been heard of before that day.” 

That same meeting brought forth the Articles of Organization for this newfound, nonpartisan organization. One sentence from those articles stated, “In thousands of instances the laws of the states are in conflict, their practices are discordant, their regulations are antagonistic, and their policies are either competitive or repugnant to one another. Such disharmony cannot continue.” 

By 1939, the organization had reached national acclaim for its collaborative nature and efficiency. On Jan. 20, 1939, The New York Times published an editorial noting how CSG successfully facilitated an interstate compact between New Jersey and New York, which established joint authority over the Palisades Interstate Park. 

“Notice the fitness of the machinery for the job. The commission members of state legislatures will look after the necessary laws. The administrative members will execute them. CSG is a practical machine of information and action, highly useful in a day of complex problems,” the editorial read. 

The piece also noted the assistance of CSG in ending a 55-year-old question between eight states on the regulation of fishing in the Great Lakes. 

Throughout the organization’s history, CSG has consistently played an integral role in uniting state legislatures, notably during the dawn of World War II. In 1940, CSG members met with federal officials at the request of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration to craft plans to aid states in developing legislation that helped fuel federal government defense efforts near the onset of World War II. As a result, the CSG Suggested State Legislation Committee, now referred to as Shared State Legislation, was developed. Throughout the war, CSG united state defense councils, administered the Selective Service System, and established state guards to offset the shortage of National Guard members who were called into federal services.

It was around this time that CSG had become a notable force in the policy world. Toll and his 15-member staff established a headquarters in Chicago, with an additional office space in New York City. 

After the war, CSG continued to broaden its service area through the expansion of its regional presence. While the Eastern Regional Conference had already been developed in 1935, by the mid-1940s, organizational leaders across the nation had established regional conferences in the Midwest, South and West. As the regions began to take root, the scope of CSG services expanded. In 1969, under Executive Director Frank Bane, CSG relocated its headquarters to its current location in Lexington, Kentucky. 

In 1983, Carl W. Stenberg III came on as executive director of the organization. Prior to his role at CSG, Stenberg directed the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service at the University of Virginia. He has also authored several books and publications relating to policy, including “Managing Local Government Services: A Practical Guide,” “Pulling the Lever: The States’ Role in Catalyzing Local Change,” and “America’s Future Work Force: A Health and Education Policy Issues Handbook.” He went on to serve as director of the Master of Public Administration program at the University of North Carolina School of Government from 2006-11. 

Before Stenberg was named executive director, he recognized the unique perspective CSG had in the policy space. 

“It is an organization that represents all three branches of government, not just one of them. No other organization has that reach.”


He added, “CSG is a regionally based, national organization. It is unique in that it has a national office and Washington presence, but it also has four regional offices that enable it to, in a more focused way, identify and help policymakers deal with issues that are not national in nature, but may be regional or Interstate. The capability to have a broad national view, but also the more focused regional perspective sets CSG apart from the other organizations that serve state officials.”

One of Stenberg’s first big projects was the 50th anniversary of CSG, a pivotal moment in the organization’s history as it was the first national convening of all regions and affiliated organizations. 

“I believe it was Dec. 5, 1983,” he said. “Until that time, CSG National had not held annual conferences in a very long time, but the 50th anniversary was kind of a pilot. It was well attended with representatives from all three branches, and it was a terrific substantive program.”

As a newcomer to the organization, Stenberg wondered if bringing everyone together at the end of each year added value to CSG for members and affiliates.

The event proved to be so well-received that it morphed from an anniversary celebration to the annual convening now known as the CSG National Conference.

“When I look back and think of some of the ways I left CSG as a better organization, having an annual conference served a number of important purposes. Not being in Washington, D.C., it was hard to maintain the national visibility for the CSG headquarters office. Having an annual meeting that was moved around the country was one way to do that.”

For the past 40 years, CSG has convened state leaders, policymakers, representatives and affiliates in cities across the nation in a homecoming-style reunion where participants can share ideas, collaborate and learn from one another. 

This December, the CSG National Conference will be held in Raleigh, North Carolina, the home state of Rep. Julia Howard, who is serving as the 2023 CSG National Chair. 

Howard is the longest-serving member of the North Carolina House. She also has an extensive history with CSG, serving as the organization’s national vice chair in 2020 before advancing to chair-elect. She is a 2008 CSG Henry Toll Fellow and previously served as the 2007 chair of the CSG Southern Legislative Conference. 

“It is so exciting to have the opportunity to champion this organization into its 90th year and to host members from across the nation in my home state. I have been involved with CSG in many roles over many years. It is an honor to serve as national chair during such a monumental time for the organization.” 


Over the past nine decades of serving the states, CSG has had nine executive directors lead the organization through times of triumph and national hardships. David Adkins, a former Kansas State Legislator who is at the helm of CSG in its 90th year, has seen the organization through some of the most testing times in our nation. Joining as executive director/CEO in 2008, he has led CSG through the Great Recession and the COVID-19 pandemic. With every new challenge, Adkins has held the core values and principles that founded the institution at the forefront of his guidance. 

With each generation, CSG has grown and adapted alongside our members to address the ever-evolving, uniquely complex landscape of public policy. In doing so, the organization has settled into a distinctive niche that sets it apart from any other establishment. 

“Our four strong regions, our three-branch participation, and one-of-a-kind Justice Center, all help set us apart. But, when one asks state officials what they value most about CSG, we consistently hear one response: ‘It’s a family,’” Adkins said. “We create spaces where state officials from 

both parties and from many ideological perspectives can come together, see the humanity in each other, learn together and support each other, commiserate about successes and failures, support each other and share many memorable moments.” 

The Council of State Governments has undoubtedly grown, advanced and changed over the course of 90 years. Some of the problems faced in the nation’s statehouses today are resonant of the issues CSG aided leaders with in its early years, while others were unheard of even a decade ago. However, much of the organization’s origins in state stewardship, advancing democracy and the common good remain. 

So, what’s next? 

“When someone asks me what the future holds for CSG, my answer is simple: We will continue to do what we have always done,” Adkins said. “We will focus on the priorities state officials tell us are important to them; we will provide objective, nonpartisan analysis of public policy issues; we will be a source of trusted data and information; we will provide state officials with meaningful ways to learn from each other; and we will fiercely defend the role of the states in our federal system. Like always, we will adapt to changing conditions, find new ways to accomplish our mission and be responsive to the states we serve.”

Nine Decades, Four Distinct Regions

By Lexington Souers

Regional meetings were not abnormal at the inception of The Council of State Governments. Early editions of Book of the States act more as a diary, with meetings on freight rates, taxes and executive leadership, among other topics. CSG was always meant to be a “secretariat and clearing house,” to ease the concerns of the states. The articles of organization called for the creation of regional offices, the first of which opened in New York City in 1937. An office in Washington, D.C., was also opened the following year.

In the years that followed, CSG opened offices in the Midwest, South and West. Toll knew that regions were unique, concentrated “laboratories of democracy” and could curate solutions to specific policy issues. Increased communication also led to regional growth as ideas from across the country reached new leaders. Once the Eastern Regional office opened, their leadership understood that they were a “direct branch” of the central office and acted as a liaison. The Book of the States notes that “the experience of the district office has clearly indicated the value of field representatives closely associated with the interstate problems involved in the several regions across the country.”

A New York Times editorial touted CSG for its “fitness of the machinery for the job,” reading that “CSG is a practical machine of information and action, highly useful in a day of complex problems.”

The Eastern Regional Office values nonpartisan and inclusive action for multi-state solutions and leader-to-leader communication. They publish resolutions, newsletters and other documents compiling policy work. The office also hosts state visits, task force meetings and webinars for members, as well as hosting trainings, such as EASTRAIN and the Eastern Leadership Academy. The CSG Justice Center, founded in 2006, is also located in New York City.

CSG Midwest established an office in Lombard, Illinois, in 1945. The office serves 11 states, one province and several affiliated areas through policy support and research. As well, the region hosts the Bowhay Institute for Legislative Leadership Development, which is a region-specific program for leaders to improve their own skills as well as meeting with professional development leaders and collogues.

Both CSG South and CSG West opened offices in Decatur, Georgia, and Sacramento, California, respectively in 1947. Much like the other offices, they aid in policy and research analysis and leadership development. CSG South hosts programs for legislative staff, agency directors and the Center of the Advancement of Leadership Skills.

Those in a CSG West member state can attend the Border Legislative Academy, which promotes binational leadership, and the Western Legislative Academy. Customized training is also available through the WESTRAIN program.

The national leadership offered by CSG has utilized the experience being a regional leader provides. The third CSG executive director, Brevard Crihfield, served in the Washington, D.C., office, the New York office and as the Midwest regional representative, and used his experience as a regional leader to expand the services offered by CSG. Hebert Wiltsee replaced Crihfield as the fourth executive director, following a long tenure as director of CSG South and as director of research and publications. Even the current executive director, David Adkins, formerly served as chair of CSG Midwest.

“As a legislator, I served as chair of CSG Midwest. From that experience, I met and learned from incredible CSG staff members and legislative colleagues throughout the Midwest,” Adkins said. “Legislators from other states became my mentors, my advisors and my closest friends. Serving in public office has its rewards, but it can also be tough. I found at CSG a family of people, like me, who were passionate about public service and whose camaraderie helped sustain me through some dark days.”

The national Headquarters moved to Lexington, Kentucky, in 1967. Years later, the Center of Innovation opened at the National Headquarters to aid in research requests and focus on policy concerns throughout the states. Now, CSG serves as a harbor for state leaders and legislators across the nation and beyond, consistently providing the resources and opportunities they need to become more successful public servants. A commitment that David Adkins invites all state officials to utilize.

“I invite every state official to find a home in the CSG family,” Adkins said. “CSG will make you a better, more effective public servant and your participation will make CSG a stronger force for good.”