Local leaders chat with Ukraine officials
Updated 12:58 am, Friday, October 21, 2016
WESTPORT — After teaching law for a couple of weeks in Ukraine, Ken Bernhard returned to the United States with an interest in furthering Westport’s relationship with the town he taught in, Berdyansk. The first step was taken in the form of a Skype meeting between Westport town officials and their Ukrainian counterparts last month.
A lawyer in Bridgeport, Bernhard traveled to Berdyansk as part of the Center for International Legal Studies program, where he briefly taught American constitutional law. After meeting a variety of the leaders in town, Bernhard got a sense of how eager the Ukrainian town was to engage with the U.S.
Westport was represented by First Selectman Jim Marpe, Selectman Avi Kaner, Board of Education Director of Human Resources John Bayers, Representative Town Meeting Moderator Eileen Flug, Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Matthew Mandell and Bernhard.
The exchange covered a variety of topics, ranging from maintaining a vibrant economy to the varying levels of financial independence of both municipalities.
“We each described our town. They told us where their funding sources came from, what the community was like, how they operate and we did the same,” Bernhard said. “What was clear is that we have a lot more local control than their municipality.”
Eighty percent of Berdyansk’s revenue comes from its federal government, while 95 percent of Westport’s funding comes from local sources like property taxes, according to Bernhard.
The Westport officials discussed with the Ukrainians about how to sustain their economy during non-summer months. Various events Westport hosts, including Restaurant Week, Slice of Saugatuck and the dog festival, were examples.
“The environment of Westport enables lots of activities year-round,” Marpe said. “So the other nine months, when people aren’t at the beach or golfing, we have so many other activities and dining opportunities, artistic performance opportunities, recreational opportunities during the wintertime. And I think they appreciated some of those insights.”
The towns are quite different financially, Bernhard said. It has a population of 125,000 and an annual budget of $22 million, compared to Westport’s population of 27,000 and a budget of over $200 million.
Bernhard said they look forward to future exchanges.