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International ties strengthen democracy abroad.

The traditional willingness of city and town leaders to lend a hand and pass along their experiences as local policymakers has expanded to reach around the globe.

As part of NLC's international programs, mayors and council members are giving their time, energy and knowledge to assist their newly elected counterparts from Eastern and Central Europe, and the states of the former Soviet Union. Serving as teachers, technical experts, peers and confidantes, officials from NLC member cities are sharing skills in strategic planning, community consensus building, economic development and financial management.

Formal training and technical assistance programs, as well as informal peer-to-peer roundtable discussions, have been organized and implemented on behalf of groups of elected municipal leaders from countries such as Russia, the Czech Republic and Poland. These programs are being carried out, by NLC in cooperation with a consortium of sister organizations that include the International City/County Management Association (ICMA), the Urban Institute (UI), and the Urban Land Institute (ULI). The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) funds these operations.

In the most recent project, Mayor John Mason, Fairfax, Va., participated in discussions at NLC headquarters on infrastructure financing issues and city budgeting with nine mayors and deputy mayors from the Czech Republic. Using the experiences of Fairfax (pop. 25,000) as a case study, Mayor Mason was able to convey not only the process of local government decision-making, but also workable solutions that may be transferable to communities in the Czech Republic. During their visit to Washington, the Czechs also toured public housing facilities operated by the Montgomery County Housing Opportunities Commission.

In what may have been the most useful exchange during the entire visit, the Czech officials were able to increase their understanding of the historical context in which US local governments operate. Issues of local authority and flexibility also were helpful, particularly because the intergovernmental structure in the Republic has yet to be fully defined.

An extensive outreach effort to Russian municipal officials is an ongoing priority. NLC President, Mayor Don Fraser, Minneapolis, Minn., initiated contacts with the leadership of the Union of Russian Cities, NLC's counterpart in the Russian Federation. A series of meetings were held in Washington between the officers of URC and those of NLC. Topics ranged from citizen participation in local governing, to taxing powers and the functions of municipal associations. NLC past president, Mayor Ferd Harrison, Scotland Neck, N.C., City Councilman Kerry Donley, Alexandria, Va., and Jon Burrell, executive director of the Maryland Municipal League, were part of the NLC resource team for the Russian visit.

At the conclusion of the visit by the Russian delegation, a joint statement of mutual cooperation and support was signed by leaders from the two organizations. There was agreement that, "NLC and URC recognize and affirm their shared interest in strengthening and improving effective democratic local government ... and that as a result of the commonality of interests and a mutual respect, cooperation between the two organizations is possible and desirable." As part of the joint communique, both organizations pledged to work together with US government agencies to plan, organize and implement a technical assistance program for local governments in Russia.

Municipal associations similar to NLC are developing or growing in most all of the countries that were once part of the communist bloc. NLC has developed new ties or shared information with sister organizations in Slovakia, Poland, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, as well as Russia. These new ties build upon the solid foundation of mutual cooperation and coordination that exists between NLC and organizations such as Sister Cities International, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, and the International Union of Local Authorities.
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Author:Brookes, James
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Date:Aug 16, 1993
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