Focus on real issues
Today, some political scientists, lawyers and specialists in public administration believe that it is necessary to return to direct elections of mayors of cities. Others point out that the current relations between the heads of regions and regional capitals are more transparent, better and more effective than those that developed as a result of a highly controversial experiment to introduce a “two-headed” management system with the post of city manager and mayor. Lawyers, as a rule, point to the need to improve the procedures associated with the inauguration of a chief city official.
If we digress from the formal legal side of the matter and turn to the experience of the actual functioning of the city government, then in the current state of affairs there are very significant advantages.
First, the current order allows avoiding confrontations in the regional elite, which, as a rule, leads to a deterioration in the socio-economic situation of the region’s population, a drop in its investment attractiveness, and disorganization of the housing and communal services. In the recent past, Volgograd has fully experienced the consequences of the split between the city and regional authorities. The current governor Andrei Bocharov was able to achieve the consolidation of the regional elite and seeks to preserve it in the future.
Secondly, in the conditions of a constant financial deficit, typical for most Russian regions that are not donors of the state budget, centralization of finances is one of the ways to stimulate a responsible attitude of city officials to the use of allocated funds, to avoid their theft and misappropriation.
Thirdly, a consequence of the current practice is that all political issues per se are resolved by the governor and the regional parliament, while the head of the city and city deputies can completely immerse themselves in solving the accumulated problems of the urban economy, infrastructure, housing stock that worry the population. In recent decades, the experience of various Russian cities from Kaliningrad to Vladivostok has shown that the inclusion of mayors and heads of city administrations in political campaigns and intrigues inevitably resulted in serious damage to the urban economy and destruction of a comfortable urban environment for residents.
System failure in Astrakhan and Elista
Be that as it may, the quality of modern Russian management of regional centers is largely determined by the personnel decisions of the governors and the style of their relationship with the city authorities. However, for example, in the three lower Volga regions (Astrakhan and Volgograd regions and Kalmykia), there are significant differences in the solution of these issues.
After becoming the governor of Astrakhan, Igor Babushkin, according to local journalists and residents, chose an informal style of free blogging criticism in his communication with the mayor’s office of the regional center, signaling in social networks about certain specific manifestations of urban devastation (broken roads, garbage dumps, lack of lighting, etc. etc.). This position of the first person of the regional authorities was, although humorously perceived by the townspeople, at first aroused interest in the governor and gave rise to expectations, if not of a “communal miracle,” then at least of a radically new approach to solving urban problems.
However, over the 2 years of Igor Babushkin’s tenure (since September 2019), the coordination and efficiency of the actions of regional and city management structures and visible results in solving the problems of Astrakhan did not appear. The governor’s direct line on September 28 showed that he was only declaring his intentions to “build a passenger transportation system from scratch,” restore the storm drainage system, and reconstruct the water supply system. The history of these problems goes back more than a dozen years, and it would be logical to receive the first results of their solution in the last 2 years. But alas …
In September 2019, the head of the Republic of Kalmykia, Batu Khasikov, made Dmitry Trapeznikov the head of the city administration of Elista by his strong-willed decision. Although the nominee had managerial experience in the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR), in the capital of Kalmykia he was perceived as an absolutely alien person in all respects. Not surprisingly, the regional opposition and local protest movement have chosen him as one of the main targets for criticism.
But time passed: the rally passions subsided, and Dmitry Trapeznikov, who remained in his post, showed himself not from the worst side. In the conditions of the almost complete communicative closedness of the Batu Khasikov regime, the Elista mayor began to regularly hold receptions of citizens, delve into the essence of local problems, adapted to the specifics of the regional community and even began to be favorably evaluated in the local media.
But at this moment, according to various information resources, a conflict allegedly flared up with the head of the administration of the head of the republic, Chingiz Berikov, who was trying to take control of the mayor’s office of Elista. As a result, the struggle of clan interests and ambitions virtually paralyzed the work of the city authorities and led to a new growth of protest moods in Elista, which manifested itself, in particular, in the voting results in the recent elections to the State Duma: for the first time, the United Russia party lost to the communists in the capital of Kalmykia.
Bet on professionals
Against the background of these collisions, the change of city government in Volgograd looks quite logical, and its possible consequences are predictable. Vladimir Marchenko has been working in the municipal and regional authorities of the Volgograd region for 20 years. He served as deputy head and then head of the administration of the Staropoltava region – one of the most remote and complex in the region.
As chairman of the regional committee for territorial entities, internal and information policy, he gained experience in managing large organizational structures. Recently, as a vice-governor, Vladimir Marchenko supervised construction, housing and communal services, landscaping, and also dealt with the problems of defrauded equity holders. It was here, with the active participation of Governor Andrei Bocharov, that noticeable positive shifts were achieved.
As you can see, the track record of the new mayor of Volgograd indicates that Marchenko escaped the career of a party functionary or deputy, which often generates political ambition and vanity. As a specialist and practitioner, Vladimir Marchenko, on the one hand, has extensive experience in solving economic problems in construction and utilities, on the other, in the integrated development of territories both on a local (district) and regional (regional) scale.
It is this kind of experience that best suits the nature of the tasks that Marchenko will have to solve in his new position. The linear layout of Volgograd divides it into relatively isolated parts, often coinciding with the borders of individual administrative regions. In relation to them, the city administration often has to act as a coordinating center, just as the regional government coordinates the actions of the administration of rural areas.
In addition, Vladimir Marchenko is well aware of the state of affairs in the region, which will allow him, representing and protecting the interests of Volgograd, to avoid conflicts with the leadership of the region, coordinate efforts and unite the potential of the city and the region in the implementation of large-scale programs and projects. This circumstance is of particular importance, since the Russian experience shows that today only mutual understanding and support of the governor and the regional authorities guarantee the success of any municipal undertakings.
Speaking about large promising projects of urban and regional significance, Governor Andrei Bocharov outlined a number of priorities, which, obviously, will be the main focus of the new Volgograd mayor Vladimir Marchenko. Among them is the construction of a bypass road around Volgograd, the launch of which will not only relieve the central highways of the city and improve the environmental situation in it, but also significantly facilitate the movement of vehicles on regional and federal highways.
To comply with the construction deadlines for the highway and the entire complex of structures on it, support from the city authorities is important. The second priority of urban and regional importance is the completion of the construction of treatment facilities on Golodny Island.
This is not only important for the development of the city’s communal services, but is also directly related to the ecology of the Volga and the Volga-Akhtubinskaya floodplain. Another important social, cultural and recreational facility for the city is the second stage of the park in the floodplain of the Tsaritsa River. Governor Andrei Bocharov pointed out the importance of continuing the work – expanding the existing recreation area and the related arrangement of the territory.
It is also obvious that the new city government of Volgograd will have to more effectively build its relations with the administrations of the regions of the regional center and their residents. It is important that the most acute problems of urban life, worrying the population of certain districts, find understanding in the Volgograd administration and receive support in solving them.
The traditional transport problem for Volgograd also requires more efficient and innovative solutions. The same can be said about different aspects of the housing problem. The significant contribution of the regional governor to the organization of assistance to defrauded real estate investors does not remove the question of the participation of the city authorities in these efforts and their responsibility. Finally, the coming winter and the associated utility risks will be one of the first challenges for the new urban management team and its head.
The reboot of the Volgograd city government is a continuation of the regional management strategy that Governor Andrei Bocharov has been consistently implementing for several years. The practice has shown its effectiveness and adequacy to the Volgograd realities, and its results are visible and positively assessed by the residents of the megalopolis. Obviously, the head of the region expects that the renewed city government will continue this process and improve the quality of life of Volgograd residents. In achieving this strategic goal, Vladimir Marchenko can count on the support of both Andrei Bocharov and all the townspeople.