New Friends

We have some new accents at City Hall that do not involve interior decoration.  Stephanie Rose and Jennie McFarlane, local government officials from New Zealand, arrived in Albany last Friday to begin a two-week assignment as “International Fellows.”  Their work will focus on civic engagement with an emphasis on helping us do a better job of connecting with our citizens on the subject of urban renewal.

The International Fellows program is sponsored by the U.S. State Department and administered through the International City-County Management Association (ICMA) as a means of sharing knowledge and building relationships across continents.  Jennie and Stephanie are members of a group of eight fellows from China, Thailand, and New Zealand.  We are privileged to have two thoughtful, experienced public employees consulting with us on problems that are common to governments around the world.

Jennie is an attorney by training, but she handles a more diverse portfolio for New Zealand’s Waipa District Council.  During a presentation to the directors at our most recent staff meeting, we saw pictures of attractive Waipa District communities that share many similarities with Albany.  Economic development, tourism, and infrastructure are some of the issues in Waipa that sound equally familiar here.  Talking Water Gardens is of particular interest to Jennie because her District is in the process of collaborating with a government agency on a similar project.

Stephanie is a strategic planner, and her community in Wanganui is struggling with a wastewater treatment plant that isn’t working.  Some of the problems with their plant are similar to what we have experienced in recent years, although our plant seems to be doing better than Wanganui’s.  Jennie’s hometown is emphasizing its connection to the Wanganui River, a beautiful waterway that offers world-class recreational opportunities.  Just as we are trying to redevelop our waterfront as a commercial and residential center, Wanganui is counting on its river to stimulate community vitality.

I have already gleaned some valuable insights from Stephanie and Jennie; but, more importantly, I have enjoyed our brief friendship.  It’s reassuring to know that across the Pacific Ocean there are people of goodwill taking on challenges, solving problems, and working hard to make their communities better places to live.  Our “Fellows” will be with us for another week, and I hope city employees will take the time to meet them and perhaps share some thoughts.  They are working in the Mayor’s cubicle near my office and will here through next Friday.  I look forward to seeing their final report, although I regret it will signal the end of their stay in Albany. 

Distance is not the barrier it once was to friendship.  I was able to get together with a friend of mine who I met in Beirut in 2008 during my recent trip to Afghanistan.  Thanks to Facebook, I found out that Ayman was working in Dubai at the same time I was passing through on my way to Kabul.  We met for dinner and had a great reunion. 

I am very glad to be home with my family and back to work with my friends at the City.  I am also grateful for the opportunities I’ve had to meet and work with people around the world, like Jennie and Stephanie, who consistently replenish my optimism and faith in a better future.