Academic journal article Public Administration Review

The International Resource Cities Program: Building Capacity in Bulgarian Local Governments

Academic journal article Public Administration Review

The International Resource Cities Program: Building Capacity in Bulgarian Local Governments

Article excerpt

Since 1989, the transformation of municipal governments in Bulgaria to democratic, participatory practices has been a difficult one alter 45 years of Communism. Leaders and bureaucrats accustomed to the highly centralized administration of government have found it challenging to deal with concepts such as citizen participation and public accountability. The Communist system stripped local officials of initiative and authority to attempt innovative solutions to their problems. As a result, the municipalities of Bulgaria are suffering from antiquated infrastructure and lack of citizen participation, caused largely by a central government that is still hesitant to grant resources and control over most government functions to local officials.

In an effort to empower local governments in Bulgaria, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) contracted with the International City-County Management Association (ICMA) in May 1997 to fund ICMA's International Resource Cities Program (IRC). The IRC was designed to expose municipal leaders in developing and transitional countries to the best practices of American city managers through staff exchanges. The IRC program began with six partnerships in Asia, Africa, and Latin America and expanded to 31 partnerships by gate 1998. ICMA and USAID had identified four program goals:

1. To provide technical expertise to enable cities in developing and transitional countries to address pressing urban management issues.

2. To establish substantive professional relationships between U.S. municipal governments and their counterparts in developing and transitional countries.

3. To establish new professional development opportunities for urban managers in the United States and overseas.

4. To facilitate greater understanding of the mutual benefits that can be derived when community leaders in the United States and their overseas partners achieve sustainable solutions that enhance the capacities of democratic local government.

USAID identified 12 Bulgarian mayors elected in 1995 who were committed to democratic and free-market reform. USAID invited these mayors to participate in the Local Government Initiative technical assistance program. An outgrowth of USAID's work with the reformist mayors was the formation of the nonprofit Foundation for Local Government Reform (FLGR). The FLGR has two important roles: 1) it disseminates to its municipal members literature on the best practices in public administration, with emphasis on information from Western countries, notably the United States and the United Kingdom; and 2) it links Bulgarian cities with one another and with other national and international organizations devoted to municipal issues.

The ICMA invited the FLGR to partner with it to establish a pilot technical "twinning" program between three pairs of Bulgarian and American cities. Based on the successes of the initial pairings, USAID expanded the twinning program by four cities in 1998. The program has both long-range and short-range goals. In the short term, the American partner assists its Bulgarian counterpart with specific management problems, with emphasis on economic development, community participation, and public-private relationships. In the long term, Bulgarian cities build capacity to address problems with innovative solutions based on citizen input and professional management.

Auburn, Alabama and Blagoevgrad, Bulgaria

Auburn, Alabama, applied to participate in the IRC program in June 1998 and was paired with Blagoevgrad, Bulgaria. Home to Auburn University, the city of 42,000 is located in east central Alabama. Its population is diverse, with residents representing all states and more than 55 foreign countries. Auburn utilizes council-manager government with nine elected council members, including the mayor. The city government is known nationally for its innovative programs and management practices, evidenced by awards from the ICMA, the American Society for Public Administration, the United States Conference of Mayors, and the Government Finance Officers Association. …

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