The first week in Frankfort was filled with Southern charm and hospitality. The moment Rebecca Hall from the Frankfort’s city office picked us up from the airport and made sure everything was ready, I was so much attracted by this cozy city. Frankfort is beautiful and its people are so nice.
Sitting in the city office of Frankfort, the heart of Kentucky State, the first whole week was all about exploring how local governance works in actions as well as figuring out the governance structures here. It is local government which has the greatest impact on our daily lives as local governance is all about how drinking water, schools, streets, parks and recreation, police and fire protection are operationalised to ensure dignified and comfortable lives for its citizens. While local government takes different forms, Frankfort city is governed in the form of Weak Mayor Council, in which the mayor’s position is weak because the office shares appointive and removal power over city personnel. Power is decentralised and the mayor is no more powerful than the other members of the council. Another perspective of check and balance for my learning on local governance to bring back home!
While there is much excitement and learning throughout the whole week, one particular meeting with the head of the Public Works Department was so much thought-provoking. There were three key challenges of the local government in the perspective of Public Works, according to the Director. This is his great response to my long list of questions. Briefly, the challenges are 1) citizens- the key stakeholder who is closet to the local governments and the main users of public works’ service 2) lack of centralisation – too many people are elected, being independent and lack of coordinated planning and implementation and 3) graft and corruption – sometimes there are chances that commissioners may decide who gets the contracts to work in their precincts and spoils system may be used for hiring. Great Points!!! These are totally flip sides of a coin named local governance opposed to some who embraced local governance as a silver bullet.
Based on the challenge no.1, the key point is that citizens can be both a challenge and a solution to the local governance. It’s interesting how the local government work with citizens to make them being a part of solution rather than an issue. I observed how Public Works Department worked with the Elementary Students ( the youngest population) on environmental education activities collaboration with Kentucky University. Since “storm water” was identified as the key environmental problem of Frankfort, the department has been working with the elementary students on how they can protect and prevent storm water issues being concerned citizens. The lesson learnt is that environmental education can provide important opportunities for kids to become engaged in real world issues that transcend classroom walls, to be creative problem solvers and powerful advocates. Well, local governance needs to pay detail attention to all its challenges and overcoming the challenges through its creativity and innovation. Great learning!