The Developments in the Introduction of the “City Manager System” in Vladivostok

|Russia

In February this year the amendment bill for the Vladivostok City Charter, which Deputy Dmitry Penyaz of “United Russia” submitted at the Vladivostok City Duma, became a big topic of conversation. This bill was one to abolish the direct popular election of the Mayor of Vladivostok and to introduce the so-called “City Manager System”. The bill was deliberated on at the Committee on Local Government, Law and Order, of which Dmitry Penyaz is the Chair, and thereupon it was decided that it was to be adopted at the first reading at the end of February, and then they would carry out a hearing in March.

The City Manager System in Russia was systematized in “On the General Principles of Local Government in the Russian Federation” which was newly formulated in 2003, and since then the local governments adopting it have expanded. For this system, which originated in the United States at the beginning of the twentieth century, an assembly appoints a city manager as the head of the administration and it is a unitary representative system with the assembly in dominant position; in the present-day United States it has been adopted in a great many small and medium-sized local governments.

According to the 2003 “On the General Principles of Local Government in the Russian Federation”, the head of the local government, in addition to being elected by the voting of residents, can also be elected by way of the assembly from among its members. In the case of the latter, the head becomes the chair of the relevant assembly, and the head of the administration is appointed the “head of the local administration”, or in other words “City Manager”, in accordance with an agreement with the local government, selected via an open-application system. The committees carrying out the selection of heads of the local administration are two-thirds appointed by the relevant local government assembly members, and the other one-third are appointed by the assembly members of federal constituent entities [federal subjects] in accordance with the recommendations of the governors of the federal constituent entities superior to that local authority. From among the candidates selected in a committee, the local government assembly makes an appointment, and an agreement is concluded with the head of the local government.

Via the introduction of this system, the head of the local administration will not be swayed by political factors such as concern about reelection at the next polls and the opposition between the executive and legislative branches of government, and it is taken that it will become possible to carry out efficient governance. That said, naturally therein the checks and balances via the separation of powers and democratic elements will be sacrificed. From 2005 the direct popular election of the heads of the federal constituent entities was also abolished, and this system is something that has followed the current of the strengthening of “vertical authority” from the Putin administration on. In 2009 this system is said to have already been adopted in approximately 9,000 local governments within Russia. In the Russian Far East, the city of Bolshoy Kamen nearby to Vladivostok became the first local government to introduce this system. The city abolished the system in a few years, however.

Vladivostok is a city whose residents have a strong political awareness, and in particular there is a strong distrust of the federal center. The aforementioned Penyaz bill drew strong opposition from local residents, opposition parties and scholars. As early on as the day following its deliberation at the committee, under the lead of the Liberal Democratic Party pickets holding up the slogan “Don’t steal our voting rights!” swelled different places within the city, and on the local media and the internet also a lot of criticism arose. Dmitry Penyaz, confronted with such a huge response, suggested the deliberating of the bill at all the other committees, but ultimately the deliberation of the bill was shelved. Regarding the bill, the Deputy Chair Yury Popov who leads the United Russia group in the assembly has stated that “It is necessary to examine in detail the form of active participation for public opinion.” Publicly, the headquarters of United Russia in Primorsky Krai has taken a negative position on the bill.

Even after the bill was shelved, however, interest in the issue hasn’t gone away. The opposition party members of the City Duma consider that to begin with Dmitry Penyaz’s proposal of the bill was not on his own individual initiative, but was pushed forward after the leadership of the headquarters of United Russia in Primorsky Krai gave its approval. The independent assembly member Nikolay Markovtsev has stated that the shelving of the bill is a temporary retreat, as United Russia don’t want to suffer the opposition of residents before the December elections, and after the elections are bound to bring out the bill once again. In the background to this initiative, there is much talk of influential people in the Primorsky Krai government and the local business world wanting to get rid of the Mayor of Vladivostok, Igor Pushkarev.

The introduction also of the City Manager System in all parts of Russia in many cases in fact has a backdrop of political opposition between the executive and legislative branches of local governments and between federal constituent entities and local governments. In particular, in Russia the conflicts of interest between the various federal constituent entities and the local governments of their capitals has only brought political disputes, and such an introduction into the capitals has major political significance. The relationship between Primorsky Krai and Vladivostok is typical of that, and the Governor of Primorsky Krai and the Mayor of Vladivostok have always been at odds concerning local rights. Therefore, if this system is introduced in Vladivostok, it will probably bring a great transformation in the politics of Primorsky Krai. In particular, as the Vladivostok City Duma and the Primorsky Krai United Russia headquarters are under the strong influence of Governor Darkin, the Primorsky Krai government, by means of this system, will be able to establish a great political advantage over city administrations.

In April the Presidential Plenipotentiary Envoy to the Far Eastern Federal District, Victor Ishaev, drew attention by announcing that the City Manager System should be introduced in all the local governments of the Far Eastern Federal District. According to Victor Ishaev, because the dismissing of the heads of the local administrations by means of agreements will be easier, an even higher responsibility for meeting the desires of residents than directly-elected mayors with a high degree of autonomy would arise. Then, raising the examples of the City Manager System being introduced in cities such as Blagoveshchensk and Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, he asserted that it was necessary to realize more efficient governance and the strengthening of “vertical authority”, introducing the system in the capitals of the federal constituent entities in particular.

In Primorsky Krai, in Dalnegorsk in July, and again in Arsenyev in September, bills to amend the city charters for introducing the City Manager System were adopted. Depending on its subsequent expansion, the system will probably continue becoming a major factor defining the political situation of Primorsky Krai.

[Translated by ERINA]