Auxiliary or enemy units? Metropolitan Conversatory on district councils


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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe role of auxiliary units in the Tricity was discussed yesterday by  local government offcials and experts during the Metropolitan Seminar  organized by the Metropolitan Institute. The main speakers of the  seminar were Andrzej Witkiewicz (Chairman of the Management Board of  Strzyża District), Paul Brutel (Councillor of the City of Gdynia) and  Dr. Marcin Gerwin (from Sopot Development Initiative). The discussion  was attended also by other district councilors, activists and  politicians. The meeting took place within the walls of Uphagen’s  Court in Gdansk Wrzeszcz

 

The meeting began with a short lecture by Mr. Karol Ważny form the  Metropolitan Institute and councilor of Osowa District. He outlined  the idea of ​​the meeting: confrontation of different experiences and  views of Tricity towns on the functions of district councils.  Elżbieta Rutkowska then referred to the meeting held at the  headquarters of the Political Critique [Krytyka Politycza – red.] of  18 March which touched similar subject – in order to introduce for a  discussion. She pointed out that at this previous meeting, which was  attended by town and district councilors and residents were able to  identify the main problems influencing the cooperation between these  three sides. It turned out that it is lack of proper communication.

 

Firstly, Mr. Andrzej Witkiewicz spoke. He started with criticism of  statutory provisions on auxiliary units: – The Act, which forms the  backbone of the district councils provisions is not too fresh. It  does not give sufficient competence to districts councils – he  mentioned. Further he pointed to the difficult relationship with the  authorities of Gdansk, primarily in terms of giving opinions on  various documents. – Often we get prints that are discussed on the  city council’s session one or two days  before the session of the  district council. It is not possible to gather so quickly – he  argued. As a blemish of the Gdansk district councils he also pointed  to the lack of grant competitions, and the lack of treating district  councils as representative of the residents by the city. Moreover he  pointed out a lack of proper IT support or irrational division of the  city into districts. Finally he said that in Gdansk did not respect  the constitutional principle of subsidiarity, which requires the  higher body to act only when the lower one is unable to deal with the  case. As a positive Witkiewicz pointed out the electoral system for  district councils which promotes the districts where turnout was  higher.

 

The next speaker was Paweł Brutel, city councilor of Gdynia – who  presented quite a different picture of cooperation on the line  district council – city council. He started with the information that  districts in Gdynia are given approx. 20 million zlotys to be  disposed by them in their sole discretion. Those funds are usually  utilized for road repairs, and street and for the lighting.  Separation of the money between particular districts is carried out  according to a pattern (which takes into account the number of  inhabitants and the size of geographical area of the district). As  the biggest problem Brutel also pointed to the lack of proper  communication between districts and the city. Then the discussion  focused on the competence Gdynia’s district councils to advice on  local spatial development plans. Brutel indicated that the statutes  of the district councils lack of such a provision, however – the  practice is the town council informs districts about the commencement  of works on a plan.

 

The last speaker was Dr. Marcin Gerwin of Sopot Development  Initiative. – In Sopot there are districts at all – he began. – I  myself was once an opponent of those – he went on. He proved that at  the time when a resident can turn to the housing cooperative, and  also affects the distribution of funds through the civic budget  voting [Budżet Obywatelski – red.] – the district councils seem  unnecessary. Eventually he pointed that those councils may also be a  factor activating the locals and this is their main role he admires.  – They should be a hotbed of urban activists – has summed up.

 

After the speeches of the main guests the discussion on urban issues  flared. The first speaker was Jadwiga Kopeć of Upper Wrzeszcz  District Council, who advocated for increasing the competences of  district councils in influencing urban space. Karolina Rębiewska,  councilor of Olszynka also focused on that topic. She was interested  in hearing how council districts are trying to influence the planning  process. Paweł Brutel claimed that local planning is a difficult  matter, often not understood by the public. The topic was ended by  Mr. Marcin Gerwin who pointed out that cities should use  visualizations of plans to facilitate possible public consultations.

 

The discussion included further issues – Arkadiusz Kowalina of the  Board of Upper Wrzeszcz District was interested in Gdynia’s district  councils’ competences in terms of cleaning. Brutel indicated that it  is not in districts’ competence. Then, the discussion focused on  cooperation between individual district councils. Andrzej Witkiewicz  pointed out that the main platform for exchanging experiences of  particular councils in Gdansk is the association ‘District Councils  Forum’ [Forum Rad Dzielnic – red.] Paweł Brutel said that in Gdynia  council districts cooperate with each other mainly in joint projects.  Agnieszka Ważna, former district councilor of Osowa, spoke about her  experience in cooperating with councils of bordering districts.  Finally, Ewa Lieder from Gdansk Civic Group [Gdańsk Obywatelski –  red.] announced the new initiative – the group on facebook “Now  Districts” [Teraz Dzielnice], which is another channel for contacting  between the councilors of particular districts.

 

Discussants also focused on improvement of efficiency or position  of district councils. Karolina Rębiewska the main source of eternal  status quo recognized in limited rotation of city presidents, who for years can form a political base that is impossible to fight with. Krzysztof Iwanow of Residents for Sopot [Mieszkańcy dla Sopotu – red.] advocated for strengthening relations with the residents with the district councils. Halina Człapińska of the Board of Upper Wrzeszcz District focused on the electoral system, which links the funds with the turnover of a district. The question was whether this system is fair. Elżbieta Rutkowska, defining the main difference in the functioning of district councils in Gdansk and Gdynia, pointed out the will of the authorities. Bolesław Słociński of the  Metropolitan Institute considered that authorities of Gdańsk recognized district councils as a treat and potential political competition, hence the lack of cooperation with the town hall.  Andrzej Witkiewicz recapped: – Sometimes I think that the city recognizes district councils not as auxiliary but enemy units.

 

The event was a part of the series of scientific meetings called Metropolitan Conversatories. They are held monthly. Their aim is to constitute a forum for activists, social activists, academics and politicians to discuss important topics related to urban issues. The organizer of Metropolitan Conversatory is Metropolitan Institute.

 

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