Photos:Kiambu County officials tours Norristown in Pennsylvania
NORRISTOWN > A small delegation of government officials from Kiambu County, Kenya, visited Norristown’s municipal hall Wednesday, toured Main Street, waterfront and neighborhoods by bus and met informally with members of municipal council and Montgomery County government in the evening.
As Kenya’s national government has transferred countrywide responsibilities to county governments in Kenya, local officials have struggled to formulate organizations, departments and services that replicate the national functions, said Gathii Irungu, the speaker of the Kiambu County Assembly and chairman of the Assembly Service Board (ASB). A new national constitution in 2010 mandated what is called the newly “devolved system of government.”
The International Center for Alleviation of Poverty Inc. of Philadelphia organized the 11-day tour of East Coast cities and counties that included Norristown and Montgomery County as a two-day visit, said Ann Kariuki, the executive director of the center. Also included in the tour were Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Lehigh County and Delaware County. Kiambu County paid the travel expenses for the tour, Kariuki said.
The suburban Kiambu County has 1.6 million residents located next door to Nairobi, the Kenyan capital.
Irungu, 42, has served for the past two years as the assembly speaker. The delegation also included Dann Ezekial Mwangi, a member of the ASB; Francis Ndirangu Njenga, the director of committee services; David Waihumbu Gathogo; and Francis Maina, the personal assistant to Irungu.
Norristown Municipal Administrator Crandall Jones and Norristown council President Linda Christian led the nearly two-hour tour of municipal hall.
“We are so happy you are here. We look forward to an exchange of information,” Jones said. “We are here to serve you.”
After a tour of the council chambers, Norristown Director of Planning Jayne Musonye, a native of Kenya, explained how the planning department encourages developers to build projects in Norristown with loans, grants or tax subsidies that reduce the cost of renovations or new construction.
“We use a public-private partnership. We have to make that (proposed) place more attractive for investment than the mall,” she said. “The bottom line is what makes the deal profitable to the developer.”
Christian described how council responds to resident complaints about development projects and how council makes small changes in those projects.
Jones described a property tax reduction deal for a luxury apartment building on Sandy Street that allowed the project to gain approval with a $2.1 million tax subsidy from the three taxing authorities.
Irungu said that in Kenya it is difficult to convince residents and businesspersons to pay the necessary taxes for government services.
Erick Myers, the Norristown building code official from Code Inspections Inc., described the inspection process in buildings where complaints are made. He carefully explained why government officials have the right to inspect any location where a complaint is lodged.
In the finance department, Irungu questioned finance clerk Mariel Shortall about her duties while the visitors clustered around her desk.
Norristown police Chief Mark Talbot Sr. and police Capt. Richard Clowser led the detailed tour of the police department located in the basement of municipal hall. Irungu said that Kenya’s colonial history made residents there believe “the police are our enemy.”
“It is not as explicitly adversarial as you describe,” Talbot replied. “Our broad idea is to have positive interactions with the public. We can use force to compel an arrest, to protect ourselves and the community and to prevent escapes.”
Clowser described how juveniles are treated differently from adult offenders and the Montgomery County Youth Aid Panel program that determines punishment for low-level crimes. He also explained the mechanisms and systems used for arrests, preliminary hearings and incarceration before trial for adults.
The delegation visited the sally port where prisoners are received, the dispatch room, fingerprint facilities, command offices and the eight-cell lock-up for prisoners. Because a male prisoner was housed on one side of the lockup, the visitors toured the empty, “female” side.
The visitors asked questions about patrol responsibilities, why two television monitors in the radio room show different views of Norristown’s Main Street and how Norristown residents view the police.
The Kenyan delegation was treated to a luncheon with hoagies and zeps, soft pretzels and tomato pie, fried chicken and collard greens before the bus tour of Norristown. Councilman William Caldwell and Public Works Director Robert Glisson joined the group for lunch where a lively discussion of American taxation and the government organizations that it funds occupied one half of the group.
The delegation will meet with the Montgomery County commissioners and county staff Thursday morning for two hours to discuss trade possibilities and government operations.
“The main aim of this exchange is to study and observe how institutions of devolved systems interact with each other,” said Kariuki. “The trip will enhance the understanding of the principles and practices of devolution as a way to democratic governance.”