Meeting ‘Mr. Mayor’ of Preston, England

Grand Forks City Council member Bret Weber poses with Veronica Afrin, mayor of Preston, England. Afrin is pictured wearing the official chain of the city worth more than 200,000 pounds or more than $300,000. Weber stopped by Preston on July 9 during his trip to an international conference he is attending as part of his UND professorship. Photo by Peter Heaps.

Bret Weber is a member of the Grand Forks City Council and represents Ward 3. He’s a social work professor at UND and is traveling to an international social development conference in Kampala, Uganda. Along the way, Weber is meeting with local city government officials to learn more about how their cities are run.

The following entry recounts his visit to Preston, England. The entry was submitted by Weber and has been edited for the City Street Beat.

“Mr. Mayor” Veronica Afrin of Preston, England is one of a long line of mayors dating back to 1327.

When she was elected, she had the right to choose her title, and could have chosen to be referred to as Madam Mayor. But to Afrin, the title has more to do with the office and its history and traditions than the person holding the office.

And so she is Mr.Mayor.

Afrin welcomed a unique visitor to her city of approximately 140,000 in northwestern England earlier this week. Grand Forks City Council Member Bret Weber stopped in to learn more about different forms of city government while traveling to an international conference.

While there, Weber also will assist UND professor Rebecca Romsdahl. Romsdal will be in the region on a Fulbright scholarship over the next seven months researching municipal policies related to the environment.

While he is not on official business for the city, Weber did meet with Mayor Mike Brown before leaving Grand Forks to talk about the trip and did discuss matters with Mayor Afrin as a fellow elected official.

Preston’s local government shares some similarities with Grand Forks but also has some major differences. Afrin is one of 57 ‘councillors’ who make up Preston’s City Council. The mayor is elected to a one-year term by her fellow councillors. Afrin has served on the city’s council for more than 35 years.

Similar to Grand Forks, she sits beside the city’s attorney during meetings while presiding over the deliberations and votes of the council. Unlike Grand Forks, Preston has more than eight times as many council members but less than half as many department heads. Grand Forks government has 12 department heads.

Also, while the public can attend the council meetings that are held every six weeks, they are not allowed to speak during the session. Grand Forks City Council allows any member of the public to speak at its meetings.

Next week, Weber will be meeting with Kampala’s Minister of Health and the Environment while attending a conference where he and his wife Professor Carenlee Barkdull will be presenting on work they have done in western North Dakota’s oil patch.

This includes ongoing work on the North Dakota Man Camp Project with UND’s Professor William Caraher.

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