INTERNATIONAL IDEA EXCHANGE

U.S.-Mexico Public Works Exchange Series

Bernardo Garcia
Assistant County Administrator
Hillsborough County, Tampa, Florida
Member, APWA/AMMAC Task Force

During the week of October 6-10, 2003, the second installment of a groundbreaking International Public Works Exchange Series was held at the University of Veracruz in Xalapa, the capital of the State of Veracruz, Mexico. Veracruz was certainly the appropriate venue, as it has served as the entryway into Mexico since the days of the early explorers. Tropical Veracruz was the country's first port, and remains the most important one. The State of Veracruz boasts significant trade in oil, cattle, and coffee, serves as a desirable tourist destination, and has Mexico's only nuclear plant at Laguna Verde.

This international information sharing program was five years in the making, and sprang from a meeting I had during an APWA conference in Denver with a high-ranking member of the Association of Mexican Municipalities, A.C. (AMMAC), APWA's Mexican counterpart.

I thereafter hosted several planning meetings with elected officials and private sector leaders from throughout Mexico. We all agreed that the exchange program was a worthy project that deserved our time, expense and effort. We did so with the support of the APWA International Affairs Committee and, most importantly to me, the wholehearted encouragement of then-Hillsborough County Deputy County Administrator (now County Administrator) Patricia Bean.

On November 18-22, 2002, Hillsborough County hosted the first conference in the Exchange Series, at which we provided significant "how to" public works, planning and management information to our visiting Mexican counterparts. At its conclusion, Dr. Victor Arredondo, President of the University of Veracruz, felt that the conference had been very beneficial, and therefore asked me to bring twelve professionals of my choice, at the university's expense, to conduct the second conference in Mexico.

I selected nine staff members from the Hillsborough County Departments of Public Works, Water, and Planning and Growth Management. Three good friends and colleagues joined us: Dr. Tito Guerrero, President of Stephen F. Austin State University, Nacogdoches, Texas; Oscar Valdivieso, Traffic Engineer, City of San Diego Public Works Department; and Roberto Moranchel Bugarin, Principal Planner, County of Arlington, Virginia. The University of Veracruz invited 48 Mexican government officials, public works directors, professors, and their most outstanding students to make presentations. More than 500 students and 150 teaching staff attended the conference.

Opening ceremony at the University of Veracruz. Right center: Dr. Victor Arredondo, President; left center: Bernardo Garcia, Assistant County Administrator, Hillsborough County, Tampa, Florida

We developed two clear goals for the weeklong program: (1) to provide curricula that would complement the university's Masters of Public Administration requirements by presenting specific topics on urban growth—water, highway design, and transportation, among others; and (2) to create a framework for the formation of a Network for the Investigation and Counseling in Public Affairs.

The program for Monday and Tuesday consisted of daylong seminars held at the main campus of the university. After a welcome from President Arredondo, I opened the gathering by challenging the assembled academics to consider and adhere to two of my own core concepts within public service. First, public works and related government departments exist to provide the services that citizens are unable to provide for themselves, such as roads and highways, utilities, and other infrastructure in general. Second, it is the role of government to work with the private sector to develop effective regulatory schemes that address critical public interest issues such as environmental protection, while minimizing negative economic impacts on the industries that fuel the desired economic growth.

My American colleagues then presented sessions on methodologies used in the United States for urban planning; preservation of historic districts; treatment of water and wastewater; infrastructure management; water pollution; eutrophication of water bodies; budgeting processes; management of capital projects; watershed master planning; public participation; and best management practices. The university provided continuous transmission of these sessions via videoconferencing to all five campuses.

On Tuesday night, we moved to Puerto de Veracruz, the site selected by the university for five concurrent workshops covering different areas of public works responsibilities: urban planning; environment and natural resources; transportation and highway design; community outreach; and best management practices in public affairs. Each workshop included government officials, university professors and administrators, American professionals, and student leaders. Facilitators opened discussions with an introductory statement of about a half-hour on the subject. Each participant then expressed his or her views on the subject, followed by an open discussion. The facilitators did an excellent job keeping the flow of ideas organized and summarized.

Each workshop also involved a discussion of the proposed Network for Investigation and Counseling in Public Affairs. By Friday, the Network had an organizational structure and a set of goals and objectives. The Network will identify university resources to conduct research and develop training programs that will in the long run make sustainable public administrations possible. The Network will also establish a continuing education program at both the technical and post-graduate levels, with the goal of training public servants within the State of Veracruz to plan and manage the modernization of all systems involved in creating sustainable growth within the State of Veracruz, while at the same time improving the quality of life for all citizens. Finally, the Network will assist the university to enhance interdisciplinary communication among professors, administrators, and students, particularly in the disciplines of architecture, engineering, public administration, tourism, marketing, and environmental sciences.

I was particularly gratified that the workshop participants independently focused on one unifying standard that underlies all these public works disciplines: public service based on principles of democracy and the ethical application of the rule of law. At the Public Participation Roundtable, the Honorable Hugo Fernandez-Bernal, Mayor of Cordoba, Veracruz, expertly summarized how his government has already moved in this direction through a comprehensive outreach program. Cordoba government officials regularly meet with citizen advisory councils to ensure that government is addressing the problems identified or perceived by the public. With the assistance of the State government, Cordoba is training its citizens to face and solve personal and community challenges in partnership with government. Cordoba is also focusing on its youngest citizens. The government has implemented "Brigades for Municipal Development" and the Cordoba Institute for Youth, where the students have an opportunity to learn and to apply their knowledge to community issues. This practice creates awareness of civic responsibility based on principles of democracy from an early age.

The Best Management Practices Workshop participants held a very interesting session on ethics in government. Although some frustration was expressed at the current state of affairs in most Mexican municipalities, the overall consensus was that both university and government should focus on instilling solid principles of ethics in students of public administration.

The Hillsborough County delegation of engineers, architects, environmentalists and urban planners.

On Friday, each workshop group developed conclusions from their discussions, and provided written action recommendations for short-term tasks and long-term goals for the Network for the Investigation and Counseling in Public Affairs. At the final Plenary Session, all conclusions and goals were read and recorded. I was then honored to formally invoke the creation of the Network, along with University Vice-President Emilio Zilli, who was installed as the Network Coordinator, and Dr. Sergio Amante-Haddad.

President Arredondo and I also agreed to investigate the possibility of sponsoring members of the private sector, professors, and students in work-study programs in the field of public works. Our long-term goal would be to provide the leadership and support necessary to professionalize public service; to equip students and local government with the tools to develop best practices in the management of public infrastructure; and to achieve a continuous and close relationship among government, community, and academia.

Bernardo Garcia can be reached at (813) 276-2590 or at garciab@hillsboroughcounty.org.

Slovak and Czech Republic Public Works Associations Spring Conferences

Mark your calendar now! Start making your plans to attend the Spring Conferences of the Slovak Public Works Association on March 31 and April 1, 2004 in Michalovce and the Czech Public Works Association on April 8 in Trebon, an ancient historical community near the city of Ceske Budejovice. Representatives from public works associations from Poland and Hungary are also expected to be in attendance.

APWA signed a collaboration agreement with the Slovak Public Works Association at the 2000 Congress in Louisville. The Slovak Public Works Association, with assistance from the APWA/SPWA Task Force, forged a collaboration agreement with the Vishigrad Four countries of Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic in 2001. The Czech Public Works Association has expressed an interest in a similar arrangement in APWA, and the APWA/SPWA Task Force is interested in collaborating with all four countries as a group.

APWA has been represented at meetings in Slovakia since 2001 and our 2004 delegation will be led by our President Dwayne Kalynchuk. He is expected to be joined by a Jennings Randolph Fellow and members of the International Affairs Committee (IAC) and the APWA/SPWA Task Force. The Czech and Slovak Associations have offered to cover the cost of the ground transportation and meals from March 30 to April 9, and members attending will be responsible for their own travel expenses to the Vienna/Bratislava airport, accommodations during the visit, and return airfare from Prague.

A bronze casting of a sewer worker emerging from a manhole in the old city of Bratislava.

So... if you've been putting off that European holiday, now is your chance to visit the great cultural centres of Vienna and Prague and places in-between. Meet and mix with fellow public works officials as they personally introduce you to their countries. The Slovak Association will be responsible for our group from March 30 to April 4, picking us up in the Vienna/Bratislava airport and taking us across Slovakia to their meeting in Eastern Slovakia in Michalovce, the economic and cultural centre of the low-Zemplin region, rich in history. While in Slovakia, you will have an opportunity of visiting the capital city of Bratislava and the second largest city, Kosice, which is very close to Michalovce. Ancient castles and churches dot the landscape, and the mesmerizing High Tatras, spanning the border between Slovakia and Poland, offer the best skiing in the world. The High Tatras rival the Swiss and Austrian Alps at much more affordable prices with modern facilities. A visit to the ancient royal city of Levoca will also be on the itinerary. Both Slovakia and the Czech Republic are well known for their many health spas, guaranteed to cure whatever ails you.

On April 5 we will be transported to the Czech Republic by car to the town of Olomouc. We will spend two nights in this South Moravian town, over a thousand years old, visiting town officials and the nearby Kastle Kromeriz and its beautiful gardens before going on to the Czech Public Works Association meeting in the old town of Trebon. Trebon was founded in the 12th Century, and is the natural centre of the Trebon basin, well known for its many forests and numerous fishponds. In 1978 the town was declared a historical reservation, and a year later the area was declared a protected landscape and a biospherical UNESCO reserve. Not too far from Trebon is the larger city of Ceske Budejovice, home of Budweiser beer, a little hardier than our infamous "Bud Lite."

On April 9 we travel to Prague for a planned sightseeing trip, after which you may return home on the 10th from the Prague airport. Prague has a reputation of being one of the most beautiful cities in the world, hosting about 3,000,000 tourists annually. Golden Prague, so called, took its name from the gilded towers of the Prague castle and many other buildings. Wenceslas Square, the city of churches (over 500 spires) and the Charles Bridge are sites to be seen.

If we have captured your interest, do some web browsing and you will surely see that this is an opportunity of a lifetime. No doubt, you will want to extend your visit on either end to spend more time on your own, "doing your thing."

For more information, please contact Geoff Greenough, Chair of the APWA/SPWA Task Force, at geoff.greenough@moncton.ca or other members of the task force which include Helena K. Allison (hallison@ci.davis.ca.us), Guy S. Cicon (cicon@city.port-alberni.bc.ca), Belo Csomor (beloc@sympatico.ca), Jimmy Foster (jimmyf@gwmail.plano.gov), Milan Rezabek (mrezabek@co.clark.nv.us), Craig Sinclair (csinclair@ci.minnetonka.mn.us), Larry Lux, board liaison (llux@westerncom.net) and Kaye Sullivan, staff liaison (ksullivan@apwa.net). SPWA President Peter Benes can be reached at tsb@nextra.sk.

Local arrangements in Slovakia and the Czech Republic are being coordinated by Milan Podzuban and Dr. George Jiri Neuzil, respectively, who attended the APWA Congress in San Diego. Milan Podzuban may be contacted at podzuban@pesco.sk and Dr. George Jiri Neuzil may be contacted at remit@remit.cz.

A message from Cameron Berkuti in Iraq
Although I am currently assigned to my hometown Kirkuk in northern Iraq, I have been commuting to Kirkuk each day from Erbil, the Northern Region's Headquarters. The work in Iraq is very challenging. Iraqi workers are good technicians, but, like many of us, they need to improve their management skills. The needs of this country are much greater than the resident talents can afford. Unemployment is about 65%. It's good that the rest of the world is involved in helping restore this country and revitalizing its precious resources. The world is too small to ignore what is happening elsewhere.

  Erbil's vibrant economy

Well, back to our profession (public works). I am currently advising the Kirkuk Governor and Governorate Council concerning decision making and the running of a local government. I am also working with different department heads and our military to provide an assessment of needs of infrastructure and developing short-term and long-term plans to address them. We are working under very difficult conditions. Guards are necessary everywhere we go. Security is a big problem. Our working hours are seven days a week and 16 hours a day.

There is a big difference between the Kurdistan areas and the rest of Iraq. During the 12-year period when the Kurds were outside Saddam's control, they were able to bring back services and democracy. The rest of Iraq is now looking at the Kurdistan area, once a region of destruction and chemical attack, as a model for democracy and rebuilding.

It was amazing to see how accurate our missiles were. They only damaged the targeted facilities and not surrounding areas.


Cultural Proverbs

"Do not throw the arrow which will return against you." - Kurdish Proverb

"Do not stand in a place of danger trusting in miracles." - Arab Proverb

"Dwell not upon thy weariness, thy strength shall be according to the measure of thy desire." - Arab Proverb

"God sells knowledge for labor, honor for risk." - Arab Proverb