By Gerhard Schneibel

A Japanese delegation toured Sandy Springs City Hall on Aug. 13 in search of insight into the workings of a public-private municipal partnership.

Many of the Japanese said they were impressed by the efficiency with which CH2M Hill, a Denver-based contractor, has administered the city of Sandy Springs. Some raised ethical questions about how contract employees are compensated, how citizens are guaranteed impartiality and to what degree the model affects freedom-of-information laws.

The delegation of more than 20 Japanese graduate students, professors and public officials was affiliated with the Public-Private Partnership School of Toyo University in Tokyo. The group began an eight-day U.S. tour Aug. 10 in Washington, D.C.

Yuji Nemoto, a professor at Toyo University, said many Japanese local governments are in financial crises. The model of a contract-run city, like Sandy Springs, is a possible remedy.

“They want to have as much information about how to be relieved of such a serious situation and how the city has specialized in the public-private partnership field,” he said. “Sandy Springs is very famous in Japan because the system is the first for a completely public-private partnership city management system. There is no example in Japan or any other countries in the world. So we are very much interested in the city’s trial.”

Chozo Nakagawa, the mayor of Kasai, a city near Tokyo, said through a translator that his work is similar to that of a city manager. He learned about Sandy Springs 1½ years ago during a seminar at Toyo University.

“Looking at the Japanese system, the public sector has so many assets which are completely underutilized or not utilized. So much of the taxpayers’ asset exists in the public arena (and) has to be utilized for the benefit of the citizen,” he said.

Nakagawa said Japan should introduce a master’s degree in public administration and develop public-private partnerships.

“Many Japanese mayors are politicians with no background in city management. I, coming from the business side, am the manager of city business,” he said. “This type of public service requires a high level of understanding — knowledge — of the citizens of the city.”

Sandy Springs City Manager John McDonough said the city administration was honored by the visitors’ interest in its “approach to providing services.”

“Not only do these visits help to strengthen relations between our countries, but it also allows us to promote the great things happening in Sandy Springs,” he said.

Motoko Terai, who works in planning for Chiyoda Public Library in Tokyo, completed her master’s at Toyo University. “I’m interested in administration of the public office and how they share their work to do this public sector and private sector,” she said. “We normally work with public employees at the office. And sometimes it goes well, and sometimes it doesn’t.”

Kozo Hara, who works in urban development for Taisei Corp., also is enrolled at the university.

“This Sandy Springs public-private partnership I want to realize in Japan,” he said.

The delegation also visited CH2M Hill-managed Johns Creek, a company-managed retirement community near Orlando, Fla., and the company’s corporate headquarters in Denver.