This blog is for those wanting to keep up to date on all the work that the Vermont Council on World Affairs is doing around the world.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Enhancing Provincial Council's Oversight and Advisory Capacity: A Project for Afghanistan

This week the Vermont Council on World Affairs and the International Visitor leadership Program hosted a group traveling all the way from Afghanistan. The project was for Enhancing Provincial Council's Oversight and Advisory Capacity by learning about various government systems in the United States and Vermont. We were fortunate enough to have five politicians from five of the 31 different Afghanistan provinces  to learn about the many diverse political systems that we have here in Vermont. With us we had Mr. Amruden Wali of the Kunduz Province, Mr. Mohammad Noor Rahmani of the Sar-e Pul Province, Mr. Firozuddin Aimaq of the Baghlan Province, Mr. Karim Atal of the Helmand Province, and Mr. Sayed Azim Kabarzany of the Heart Province, all accompanied by their Dari language interpretors Noor Durrani and Mohammad Azis. The group spent Monday and Tuesday traveling around Vermont and Burlington meeting with various organizations to discuss political and government structures with their counterparts.

On Monday morning we met with Shelburne Town Manager Joe Colangelo to discuss town governments. What is unique about Colangelo's role as Town Manager is that he functions very much like a town Mayor. The difference between a Mayor and a manager is that a Mayor is elected for his position, whereas the manager is hired for his job and he has no set term. What we learned from Colangelo is that different towns in Vermont and all around the nation have extremely varied government systems, which makes it difficult to collaborate directly with other towns. Mr. Mohammad Noor Rahmani called Colangelo "young and energetic," and we learned a lot about Shelburne's politics in comparison to surrounding Vermont towns.

During the afternoon on Monday we were fortunate enough to have the time to get to explore the Vermont State House in Montpelier. The group loved seeing all the historic pieces displayed throughout the house, as well as the Senate and the House meeting rooms. While we were there, we had the pleasure of meeting Representative Jill Krowinski, House Majority Leader who talked a little bit about the work that the Vermont State Representatives take part in.
After we left the State House, we went on over to meet with the Vermont League of Cities in Towns in Montpelier. There we met with the executive director of the program, Maura Carroll, who explained the importance of having representation of all the towns in the state of Vermont. The League provides various types of insurance around the state, and the organization offers a Municipal Assistance Center for consultation on a wide range of municipal issues for citizens around the state.

On Tuesday, we spent the day in Burlington City Hall meeting with various members of the Burlington government system. First we met with members of the Burlington City Council. Out of a total of 12 councilors, we had the opportunity to meet with four councilors. Joan Shannon discussed the importance of having both a strong Mayor and a strong City Council Government, and that neither can do without the other. All councilors are part time, and they work with the Mayor to discuss the needs of the city. They deal with everything from passing resolutions, city ordinances and charter changes, to the construction of the town center, to things as specific as fixing pot holes in the roads.

Next we got to meet with Bob Rustin, the Burlington City Treasurer. Rustin has the immense responsibility of overseeing all of the city's finances. He creates monthly reviews for the city council, oversees all city taxes, and prepares monthly budgets that get reviewed by the council. He also organizes all city elections. Last March there was the town meeting election, and Rustin was responsible for arranging ballots, hiring and scheduling election workers, and organizing and reporting the results. In addition, Rustin is required to keep track of all documents, licenses and certificates such as land records, birth records, marriages, etc. The meeting provided an immense amount of information to our Afghan visitors about the many different responsibilities that our local leaders are in charge of, and provided insight to various methods of organizing city works.

Lastly, the group met with members of Burlington's Neighborhood Planning Assembly. Created 35 years ago, the goal of the assembly was to bring the different areas of Burlington together to discuss the different issues as well as keep an open line of communication. Burlington is divided into eight different wards, or neighborhoods, and each month different neighborhoods get together for a meeting to discuss whatever issues have developed and proposing possible solutions. Providing a public dialogue is essential because it gives an opportunity for members of the community to voice any of their concerns and be involved with the city's planning. Each neighborhood in Burlington has its own unique issues, and having the monthly meetings with the National Planning Assembly offers a space for the community to get involved.

Throughout the various meetings, our group of Afghan Politicians were able to get a sense of government in Vermont in a neighborhood scale, a town and city scale, a state scale as well as a national scale. The Vermont Council on World Affairs would like to thank the members of the Afghanistan provincial councils, their incredible translators, and the many #802Diplomats we met along the way.

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