A second look at the Ausländerbeirat

When I first visited the Ausländerbeirat in Oberursel last month, I was critical of much of what went on during the evening – in particular the lack of preparation and willingness to attend other committees.

My article prompted some interested responses, some here on the site, but also on social media and especially some in person in the town.

So when the committee met again this week, I went along for a second look and to see if anything had changed, or more to the point to see if it is always the way that I observed to be the month before.

The evening started with the information that one of the elected committee members is giving up their mandate.  As happened over the summer with another member, rather than leave the seat vacant or have a new election, the person who had the highest number of votes at the last election without actually being elected effectively moves up the results list to fill the space.

In the town council, where the seats are shared out among the parties, this can make sense because the next person from the same party moves up.  But the Ausländerbeirat does not have a party system.  Instead, there were simply 14 candidates for 9 seats.  The person on 11th place only received 50 votes from 171 voters (with 4,981 eligible to vote).  So I do wonder at what point someone is deemed not to have enough votes to sit on the committee and a new election is held?

That was the end of the information from the chairman, except for the fact that everything else he had to tell the committee would be in the non-public part of the meeting.

An interesting discovery was that there is a “Geschäftsführer”, a manager if you like, who is actually in the town hall Mondays and Thursday from 2pm until 5pm and is somewhere that foreign residents in the town can go for advice.  He reports back to the committee on the things he has been advising on, without giving any further information about the people themselves.

Now they tell me!

I would like to suggest that everyone with a foreign passport who registers with the Einwohnermeldeamt is given a piece of paper in multiple languages with details of that office and its opening times.

Then came the phrase I had been waiting for.  Turning to the town’s integration concept, the question “who has read it”? was posed.  Well, this time a couple had.  More on that in a moment.

The reports from the other committees were, in some cases, more detailed this time.  Except, at first, for the building and environmental committee, which apparently no-one had attended.  But this time, rather than passing over the point, they referred to the minutes of that meeting and found lots of interesting points to talk about, including the fact that the town is spending €10,000 on a piece of software to allow residents to take a more active roll in local decisions.

(As a side note from an IT consultant, I do wonder what piece of software that is going to be.  I hope it’s better than the current forum on the town’s website is!)

They also took some time to discuss the amount of speed traps in the town, and this time the swimming pool played a larger role as well.

The next item on the agenda – preparing for the forthcoming meetings of those committees – was carried out fairly quickly, and was little more than deciding who would go to each one.  More on that in a moment as well.

Returning to the integration concept, after it was announced that the next level of local government (Kreis) is developing their own, and that the town’s concept is not actually now (apparently some members already received it a year ago), it was decided to wait until the Kreis had finished their concept before continuing work on the town’s one.  A logical step maybe, but one that raises the question of why no-one noticed the Kreis concept earlier, or whether the town’s one has actually been discussed in that year.  I guess I’ll have to go through the minutes of previous meetings to find out.

There then followed the slightly controversial discussion of who is considered a “proper foreigner”, with a possible distinction being made between EU and non-EU citizens, before agreeing that the difference was simply a legal one.

And with a short “any other business”, the public part of the meeting would have been over, if a member of the town’s executive had not intervened and pointed out that planning the participation on other committees involves going through the agendas and not just selecting who is going, and that this was to be done in public.

To be honest, they need not have bothered, as effectively they did exactly that – they went through the items on each agenda without actually discussing them or whether they affected the foreigners in the town in any particular way.

“I would like you to open your mouths at those committee meetings.  You have a right to speak” the members were told by the chairman.  But how do they know what position to take in those meetings?

The public part of the sitting was over in about an hour, and it left a hurried impression on my.  All too often it appeared as if a topic was being hurried along, or just being named but not discussed.  And all too often things were skipped over, because they would be discussed further in the non-public part of the evening.

Why so much secrecy?  What is the point of the public part of the meeting, if I can get the same information by reading the agendas and minutes of the other committees on the town’s website by myself?

I’m still missing the “how does it affect us and the people whose interests we represent” question when talking about those items.  Otherwise, what is the point of the committee meeting at all?

About Graham Tappenden

Graham Tappenden is a British ex-pat who first came to Oberursel in 1993 and returned with his family to live there in 2003. He has been writing for AllThingsGerman.net since 2006. When not writing blog posts or freelancing for the Oberurseler Woche he works as a self-employed IT consultant solving computer problems and designing websites. In 2016 he gained German citizenship.

Comments

  1. You wrote: As a side note from an IT consultant, I do wonder what piece of software that is going to be.  I hope it’s better than the current forum on the town’s website is!

    I guess you meant the software “Bürgerbeteiligung” from eOpinio, introduced in public by the managers of the young company at the meeting of the Haupt- und Finanzausschuss the day after the Bau- und Umweltausschuss. You should have been there. The participation software of eOpinio is a serious and well tested tool for Bürgerbeteiligung, not only for the Bürgerhaushalt but also for other projects of a community.

    • Yes, I would like to have seen that and would have been there if I had known.

      But this highlights one of my points here – this was mentioned in the Ausländerbeirat as something that had been in the HFA the month before, but not something that was going to be demonstrated in the next sitting. The whole business of the next session of any committee was simply a read through the agendas.

      (Of course, if I had read the HFA minutes myself on oberursel.de, now I know where they are, I might have spotted it myself)

  2. Franz Zenker says

    I’m still missing the “how does it affect us and the people whose interests we represent” question when talking about those items. Otherwise, what is the point of the committee meeting at all?

    well Mr Tappenden….its the other way round. The English speaking community has to come forward and present their ideas. Why is it that not so many voters are there ? Well because of the European laws ! Many are European citizens based on the national member citizenship. Why is it that no Englisch speaking person joins a political party and gets elected ? They have the right to do so ! Why is it that You do not know about the officce the Ausländerbeirat has ? Its written and described on the homepage. The software that will provide input from the citicens is by the way quite accepted in other communities. Secrecy..?…..well I inherited the Ausländerbeirat a couple of weeks ago and the situation forced me to start all new. By the way we have top people there: a lawyer, a doctor of medicine, a teacher, a worker, a housewife, an engineer…and they all wait for Your input. So actualy I thank You for writing about the Ausländerbeirat at all and I encourage all of the readers of Your wonderful homepage to come forward. So please lets meet again in the next session and see the results of that. Hope to meet You and some of the English speaking community there. We need Your input !

    Regards

    • Why is it the other way around? Is it not the role of the committee to look at these points?

      If you want the community to come forward, why does the Ausländerbeirat not have a Bürgerfragestunde like the other committees have?

      I’m not sure about the members of the parties in the town and how many of them have foreign or English-speaking roots, but what difference does that make to how the Ausländerbeirat works?

      As for the office in the town hall, the fact that it exists is well hidden on the homepage (Politik->Ausländerbeirat), and even then all it says is “The Oberursel foreigners’ advisory council has been assigned office space within the Rathaus (town hall) to facilitate their work for the community.” It does not say what the office actually does, what advice it can offer or that it is for foreign residents to go to (rather than just “office space”). Maybe this should be made more clear and also added more prominently to the English version of the website?

  3. Funny – on one side they try to discuss with citizens about saving money – and on the other side they plan to spend a lot of money on a new software.

    In our present forum we could discuss just as good about “Haushalt” and how to save money – but when the citymanagers are not engaged hard enough, both the old as well as the new forum are not worth much – and ten thousand euros are thrown out the window !

    I just visited Bischofsheim https://www.eopinio.de/beteiligung/haushalt/66/sort-number/stat-1/page-2
    but I couldn´t see, what´s really excitingly better with this new software.

    Let´s revive and intensivate the discussions on facebook, wkw and our old forum – and save the ten thousand Euros for library, swimmingpool, kindergarten, saving old trees or other useful things.

    • I’ll take a look at Bischofsheim, but it would be interesting to see some figures of what it costs to run the current homepage (hosting, external programmers, etc.)

      But whether they spend the money or not, it will only work if more people use it – residents, political parties, members of the town council and the town call itself.

  4. Franz Zenker says

    The basic idea of this software is certainly the idea that is the basis of facebook:its a social network. The difference to facebook is that the data are in control of the owner of the data. Using Facebook is just the oppsite. Also I support the efforts of Dr Müllerleile, since this is the beginning of the digital area in Oberursel and in the end the software pays off. The price of the software has nothing to do with the quality of the software, but with the fact that there are people working on the data and bringing reports etc. This is much more difficult with a software provider like Facebooks. I have very bad experience writing interfaces for facebook , since they change constantly withous notice the API specifications. The discussion about the town government spending too much money is also not realistic. There are a lot of people there watching the money quite carefully. Also my idea would be that the Ausländerbeirat has a cornor in this software, where foreigners, whether EU citizens or Drittstaatsangehörige can write down their concerns or problems. Doing this on Facebook might invoke uncontrollable results. So please, if You discuss money and Oberursel stay realistic.

    Also the money flows in like crazy since Oberursel became a paradise for BLITZER…there is literally on every streetcorner a speed trap and I am sure that this brings a lot of money. Actually this is a big concern of mine, since foreigners are not used to this control mentality. They really think by controlling the drivers the amount of accidents will go down. While this has been disproven the people responsible for the speed trag actually think different. It will take quite some real seriuos persuasive tactics to convnce the firm believers of the speed trap religion that this is only good for the city and their income and has nothing to do with respecting the general driver on the road who just has to come to his/ her work….

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