Some thoughts from the USA

I’m now on my way back from a very interesting three days in Arkansas. I am very tired but I hope that I have learnt a lot and I hope that I have left some useful thoughts behind.

Their system is very different than the one that we are used to and it varies from place to place even in the one state of Arkansas. For a population of less than 3,000,000 people they have almost 400 mayors. The smallest number of people looked after by a Mayor that I met was 430! But they only cover the urban network. In the rural areas the Mayor is a ‘judge ‘ but not a judicial judge. They work with a council that is called a quorum court but it is not a court!

The mayors have different powers. Some are executive mayors but some are semi ceremonial and chair meetings. Other directly elected officials such as Secretaries and Treasurers might also be around the council chamber and voting. Councillors might be called Councillors, aldermen or Executive Directors. Who cares? It works and in Arkansas at least form follows function. A system hasdeveloped which works for that area dependent on geography and population.

There are also elected school boards but appointed library boards. But basically they do the same things that we do. they put up with daft laws from Washington or the State. They make sense of them and try to deliver community leadership and good services. They have the same 6 stages that we do:

Big picture visioning
Strategy Development
Programme development
Partnership creation

It was really good that the conference was in Hot Springs. The council was small but very efficient and the town itself was beautiful. Think Buxton or Malvern but with sun. Interesting the Mayor and 5 of the 6 ‘Councillors’ are women.

I hope that lots will come from the visit. A lot of Mayors want to come to Liverpool either to the proposed Mayoral summit or on a study trip. Already we are looking at ways to deliver these.

So many of the problems that they face we face as well. Austerity budgets, the decline of the High Street the opportunities and threats of the internet, the growing elderly population. The main conversation seem so common.

I hope that my visits will help deepen the bonds between our 2 countries. I was amused to see a picture of a British sailing ship having the tea chucked into the water at the start of a patriotic video. I was more aware than ever that the words f their national anthem played at the star of the conference relate to their freedom war against….us!

I really hope that my many new friends but especially Chris Claybaker, Vernon Dollar and Sherman Banks will be on my home patch next year.

Arkansas is such a friendly place. When they say, “have a good day” they mean it. I have never been thanked so many times for speaking at a conference. It was really nice to have a Mayor respect my opinion. Perhaps Joe will take note and next Years’ Lord Mayor as well!

But it was not all positive. I was amazed when I went into a shop where Beatles Music was playing to be asked by a shop assistant, “which continent is England on?” “Europe!” ” is that near Poland?” NO! Perhaps that is not really surprising that so few Americans actually have a passport.

About richardkemp

Leader of the Liberal Democrats in Liverpool. Deputy Chair and Lib Dem Spokesperson on the LGA Community Wellbeing Board. Married to the lovely Cllr Erica Kemp CBE with three children and four grandchildren.
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