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Iraqi, American city councils share ideas on local government

By J.C. Corcoran , 66th Air Base Wing Public Affairs

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Members of the New Bedford, Mass. City Council hold a mock city council meeting via video teleconference at Hanscom Aug. 10 for about 30 city and town officials from various districts in Iraq.
Members of the New Bedford, Mass. City Council hold a mock city council meeting via video teleconference at Hanscom Aug. 10 for about 30 city and town officials from various districts in Iraq.

Aug. 14, 2008 — HANSCOM AFB, Mass. (August 12, 2008) — The Hanscom Video Teleconference Center has been the site of many different types of meetings over the years, from discussions between Electronic Systems Center officials and others within the Air Force to holiday greetings between deployed members and their loved ones.

But on Aug. 10, the Hanscom VTC became the site of a unique civics lesson between members of the New Bedford, Mass., City Council and about 30 city and town officials from various districts in Iraq.

The idea to hold a "mock" city council meeting came from a State Department official who is a New Bedford resident currently working in Iraq. The purpose of the VTC was to demonstrate for the Iraqi officials some of the parliamentary, legislative and executive communication procedures applied by American town governments.

"This was a great experience for all of the New Bedford city council members who participated," said City Council President Jane Gonsalves. "The experience reinforced our commitment to our work for the citizens of New Bedford because we now have seen firsthand that what we do does make a difference and, how much we take for granted in America."

With a pre-planned agenda, utilizing seven separate examples of past city issues, the nine members of the 11 member New Bedford City Council arrived at Hanscom around 7:15 a.m. prepared to meet their counterparts in Iraq. After introducing her fellow council members, Ms. Gonsalves gave a brief outline of what was to take place and then gaveled the "meeting" to order.

Joining Ms. Gonsalves for the early morning meeting were councilors David Alves, Brian Gomes, Denis Lawrence Jr., Linda Morad, Steven Martins, Kathy Dehner and Bruce Duarte Jr.

For an hour the New Bedford council members brought to the floor the issues and, following standard parliamentary procedures, held floor discussions, entered motions and voted on each resolution just as they would in an actual council meeting. Because of time restraints associated with use of the VTC and the need for Iraqi officials to translate the proceedings, real in-depth debate on the motions at hand were shortened, but it was evident from the follow up questions that the Iraqi officials were paying close attention.

Following the mock meeting, Iraqi officials were then given the opportunity, through their interpreter, to speak directly to the council members and to ask questions. The questions covered a wide variety of areas that included the relationship between a mayor and the city council, how sub-committee’s work, the budget process, and whether the councilors got paid for their civic work.

The two-and-a-half hour video teleconference ended with an invitation from the Iraqi representatives to the New Bedford City Council to visit Iraq and see firsthand how their local governments operate. Reciprocating, a similar invitation was extended to the Iraqi delegation.

"I believe that the Iraqi officials benefited from seeing how we get our work done," said Ms. Gonsalves. "Perhaps our discussion will spark some ideas amongst the Iraqi officials for changes to their meeting procedures. We feel honored that we were given the opportunity to share some of our procedures with our colleagues in Iraq."