Two Annapolis city planners will help Poland's second-largest city make the transition from communism to democracy.
Jon Arason, deputy director of the Planning and Zoning Department, and urban design planner Stefan Klosowski are members of a state committee that will train officials of Lodz, Poland, in the fine points of local government.
Arason is chairman of the committee, called the State of Maryland Polish Regional Training Center Team.
Arason got the two involved in the effort quite by accident. He was sent to a meeting last spring on the effect of state legislation on local government that turned out to be more interesting than the title would suggest. At the meeting, three visiting Polish officials asked for help setting up local governments in their country.
"Here are these people saying, 'We need help,'" Arason said. "How could I turn down an opportunity like that? It's history in the making."
In the last five months, Poland has taken a headlong plunge into local democracy. After 50 years of centralized communist government, voters elected 52,000 brand new, untrained local officials in May. The problem was how to train them.
"We do not have time to waste," said Janusz Kot, an assistant economics professor at Lodz University who is coordinating the effort between Lodz, a textile city of 848,000, and Maryland. "It's very difficult to switch the system from communist to democratic, and it's not easy to switch from a local and national economy to a world economy, which is why we are in such a hurry to get training."
Maryland became involved in the effort when Arason's and Klosowski's committee drew up a proposal for training local officials in Poland. Gov. William Donald Schaefer hand-delivered the proposal during his trip to Poland in May, and the partnership was formed.
With the help of a $13,700 grant from Sister Cities International, nine Lodz officials will come to Maryland in November for five weeks of training in administration, management, fiscal planning, land use and environmental protection. Some will return to Lodz to work in local government. Others will work in a regional training center, passing on their knowledge to other local officials.
Poland has 14 regional training centers, under that country's Foundation in Support of Local Democracy and Local Government Reform Minister Jerzy Regulski. Each center is matched with a government jurisdiction in the United States.
One of the Lodz officials, most likely, will come to Annapolis to learn about planning. For years, Kot said, planners in Poland were powerful. All development had to conform with an inflexible centralized plan, and public participation was nominal. Most construction firms were state-owned, so the state controlled all aspects of development.
When power was turned over to local governments and private construction firms appeared, Polish planners found themselves at a loss, highly trained in technical expertise but knowing nothing of dealing with contentious neighbors, negotiating with developers or mediating disputes.
That's where Arason and Klosowski will help out. The planner from Lodz will then meet with community groups and developers and study how planning works in Annapolis.
Arason hopes the effort between Maryland and Lodz leads to a more permanent relationship between the two governments, including sending much-needed medical supplies to Lodz.
For Klosowski, 40, whose father was born and raised in Poland, the effort has been more than just a professional challenge.
"It really is a personal thing for me, because it hits my roots and gives me a chance to give something back to my father's country," Klosowski said.
For Arason, 37, the experience has given him perspective on his own work.
"It's rejuvenated me," Arason said. "You start taking these things for granted, then realize how important they are when someone else wants them so much."