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January 11, 2013

Russian legislators take a page from Harris rule book

The Harris School of Public Policy played host to world leaders seeking to learn about local governance.

On December 3, a delegation of Russian legislators visited the Harris School as part of an exchange program funded by the Open World Program, a congressionally-sponsored organization that aims to expose Eurasian leaders from post-Soviet countries to America’s form of democratic governance.

The Harris School visit marked the beginning of a weeklong trip that took the five-member delegation to Washington, D.C. and Chicago. The legislators, all Moscow-based municipal council deputies, were interested in improving the efficiency of both the day-to-day operations of local government and broader long-term initiatives, which include regulating business, reducing corruption, and organizing volunteer programs.

Along with administrators from the city of Chicago, Cook County, and Skokie, the delegation met with Harris School faculty members like senior lecturer Paula Worthington to discuss topics ranging from municipal finance to public park management to government transparency.

According to Worthington, Chicago’s local problems could be used to demonstrate methods of combating some of the more nuanced challenges that generally face cities and municipalities.

“In Cook County we had two or three years with very high sales taxes. That led to a migration of businesses. Eventually those taxes were pulled back. These are problems that these legislators could now be able to avoid,” she said.

Marc Farinella (M.A. ’87), the Harris School’s Chief Operating Officer, called the visitors “up-and-comers of Moscow’s government.”

“They were young leaders who showed a real commitment to improving the way that things work,” he said.

In selecting UChicago as a host, the Council of International Programs, which helped organize the trip, recognized its substantial public policy resources.

“We chose the University of Chicago because it has a good public policy program and a capable team of faculty and staff, most with excellent experience, like Dr. Marc Farinella, who had extensive background with the U.S. electoral process in Illinois and other states,” said George Palamattam, executive director of the Council of International Programs.

This type of visit is not uncommon at the Harris School, which has hosted foreign public servants and elected officials in the past.

Several more exchange trips are planned, the earliest of which involves a delegation from a Serbian women’s leadership group coming to the University in mid-March.

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