Martin Mrkos

“I want my town to become a ‘Bentley Continental GT’ with an original soul”

Martin Mrkos, Mayor of Žďár nad Sázavou

Text: Martina Hošková and M. Zisso; Photo: archive

He does not follow social media, but instead listens to people he knows and respects. He has a vision of his town becoming a kind of British aristocrat among the towns of Czechia. His party got stronger in the last local elections, which he considers a confirmation that the work he has done and the vision to be fulfilled are appreciated by the public. Meet Martin Mrkos, Mayor of Žďár nad Sázavou.

Tell us a bit about yourself, please.

I consider myself an open-minded, tolerant, and friendly person; keen on working for the place I live in. I am a competitive person, so it is my internal personal driving force to make Žďár one of the best places to live in our country. I enjoy travelling, sports (ice hockey, running, cycling), culture, and beekeeping. I love to be around people, and to have discussions with them. I believe I am goal-oriented, with the good managerial skills to be able to encourage teams to make Žďár a better place.

You are a member of an independent political party. Is that the place where your inspiration comes from?

Our party is covered by STAN (Mayors and Independents Party, in Czech Starostové a nezávislí), however, in the region we are indeed an independent party. My inspiration comes from my colleague mayors of various towns, who have made their towns brilliant. On a global scale, celebrities I find to be particularly inspiring include Bill Gates and Václav Havel.

What made you become the Mayor of Žďár nad Sázavou?

I believe it was my vision. When I was in the UK I fell in love with a car, a Bentley Continental GT. It is a typical English aristocrat with a sporty soul that looks ahead. It is a car that won’t take a family of five and 15 suitcases to the sea, or a barrel of beer to the weekend cottage you have in the middle of meadows and groves, but surely you feel that does not detract from its beauty and grandeur. I have an ambition and a vision that Žďár nad Sázavou, the city of which I am mayor, will metaphorically become such a Bentley.

Of course, we don‘t have the advantage of being a big city (that’s what taking the family to the sea is all about), but then again, we have what others don’t and won’t have: A soul of a nice quirky city, in which the appearance of the industrial past is combined with the technologies of the 21st century. It is in the spirit of the saying„original never fits“.

Žďár is located in the middle of beautiful nature, and you can see that an environmentally focused and technological town is being profiled here, absorbing modern trends, artfully combining a certain sleepiness with energy and dynamism, contrasting old and new, retro and modern, history and futurism. Part of fulfilling my vision is cooperating with like-minded investors and developers, people who are welcome here. The rules for developers and the profile of the city for investors predetermine the quality of relationships and the implementation of good projects. We invite everyone who can see an opportunity in such small positive local islands like Žďár nad Sázavou, which are unique in the same way as the above- mentioned British aristocrat car.

What are the duties of a mayor?

Being a mayor of a town size like Žďár means it is a managerial position. As I see it, the main tasks are to offer visions to the public, solve problems, connect people, and develop external relationships – with government authorities, members of parliament, and other decision-makers and stakeholders. I am responsible for and “report” to the public and to the members of a town board. I work on strategic matters, from closing a local green deal to seeking a solution for a slightly bizarre dispute between two organizations breeding post pigeons 🙂

You were elected as mayor of Žďár nad Sázavou a few months ago. Can you share some of your impressions?

The election results surprised me in a good way. We got stronger as we have nine members in the town council (out of 27) now, while we had five before the elections. I believe it is a confirmation that our vision and the work we have done is appreciated. It is, however, a great responsibility and commitment to the public as a whole, and perhaps proof that the voice of Facebook (full of haters) does not equal the voice of the public as a whole.

Which issues are the most problematic in Žďár nad Sázavou?

Despite working on the change, we are still dependent on fossil sources in the field of energy. We also face some demographical challenges due to historical development in the past, which may induce more financial pressure in health and social care in the future.

What are the main challenges for you and your colleagues?

I see the main challenges as making the town sustainable and resilient in the context of climate change. We also put a great deal of effort into making the town independent of external fossil sources. Another local challenge is to make the transport infrastructure smoother and more passable.

As mayor, what strategy are you going to follow for the next four years?

Žďár is a town situated in the middle of the Czech Republic, in a preserved nice nature area. This makes Žďár very attractive for living in, so my strategy is to beef up this benefit and value with many blue-green projects. A great environment will attract smart people and technological and smart companies to live and settle in Žďár. A snowballing effect is then expected, resulting in the natural evolution of the town.

From left: Pavel Hájek, Member of the Board of the Regional Assembly, Radim Hošek, Member of the City Council in Jihlava, Martin Mrkos, Lukáš Vlček, Member of the Parliament of the Czech Republic

How will you maintain the quality of life for the residents, alongside the development?

We strongly focus on the quality of solutions in all areas that may affect people’s life. Our philosophy is to put the human being at the centre of all projects, visions, and plans. We always ask how “it” affects people first. Only then do we solve the look and solution of the public area around. Finally, we discuss the details, e.g. how a building will look and work. This approach means that the projects must automatically be of a high quality. If not, it is not possible to realize them. We also have some technical rules for developers, which reflect the approach described above.

Recently, we got the bad news regarding the decreasing of the number of Czech post offices. How will that affect Žďár nad Sázavou, especially considering its location?

We must realize that the service of post offices is rather a “generation service”. What I mean by that is that the service is mainly used by elderly citizens, who are not very digitally competent, and it is difficult for them to take advantage of the competition, which offers more flexible and innovative service. The data we received is clear, showing the number of clients has been rapidly declining. In Žďár, we will lose two counters, ending with eight instead of the original ten. We may expect the waiting time to increase in peak times in the post office.

It is still possible we will arrange a so-called “Post Partner Plus” service; however, it is just being analysed now. This kind of service could mitigate the negative impact of closing the post branches, especially in the geographical context of our town.

A mayor’s job comes with a lot of criticism. Are you ready for this?

I do not read social media at all. I try to take both positive and negative feedback only from the people I respect, and whom I know are unbiased and able to think critically. It is also about learning to distinguish between the criticism that makes you better, and shows you new opportunities and challenges, from the one that is just a manifestation of people’s needs to be an anonymous hater. In general, however, I need people around me who do not just nod along. An open discussion is extremely important.

In four years time, will people say that you were effective in solving Žďár’s problems?

To make sure that people really say this in four years, I have to look to the future. That’s the only way to succeed.