Most of our readers might be familiar with Roman Pecenka as a Partner at PRK Partners. For years though, he has also been serving as the Vice Mayor of Podolanka. CEE Legal Matters spoke with him to learn more about his life in elected office.
In the flatlands, some 30 kilometers away from the center of Prague, lies the tranquil little village of Podolanka. Its narrow, quiet roads and alleys, dotted with old tiny houses, stand in stark contrast to the bustling streets of the City of a Hundred Spires. Perhaps it was that apparent tranquility and endless greenery that attracted then-young and aspiring lawyer Roman Pecenka to leave his hometown for a life in the countryside.
The move was driven, he explains, by his wife and his lifelong desire to live in a house surrounded by a large garden. Once they found their future home, nestled near one of the village’s ponds, they packed their things without hesitation. “We moved to the village 16 years ago,” Pecenka says. “There hadn’t been any developments in the village prior to our arrival, so there were many well-preserved old family houses.”
Yet, not all was as idyllic in the countryside. The village, which is inhabited by only about 600 people, was in dire need of not only repair but also financing. “From my point of view, the village was dying,“ Pecenka admits. “There was only one active association – the Volunteer Firefighter Organization, there was only one grocery shop and only one pub, there was no school, the roads were in poor condition, and it didn’t have a sewer,” he explains. Nevertheless, Pecenka decided to become a part of the village community. “I went to visit the mayor of the village and introduce myself,” he says. “The mayor was an old man and was not very happy to see a new face in the village,” Pecenka adds with a smile. “I guess he was nervous about whether we would be a good addition to the community.” However, shortly after, the vice mayor, who had learned that he was a lawyer, reached out and asked for legal assistance. “He asked me if I would like to help the village, provide some legal advice, check some documents, things of that nature.”
Over the next few years, Pecenka provided legal assistance to the village authorities. Soon enough, though, his commitment was recognized, and he was invited by the locals to run for a spot on the village council.
“In the Czech Republic we have around 6,500 towns and villages and every four years elections for the municipal councils are held,” Pecenka explains, adding that each council must consist of a minimum of five members while some, such as in Prague, count several dozen members. Podolanka’s council, however, was fairly small and thus more agile and easier to organize. Pecenka ran for the council twice. He was elected as one of the deputies 11 years ago. And during his second election seven years ago, he was appointed vice mayor of the village. “The role of the mayor is to be the official representative of the village and the vice mayor is their right hand,” Pecenka explains. “The mayor meets with the people and discusses their needs, while the vice mayor is the person in the background that is doing the preparatory work for those needs to be met, a sort of project manager.”
Due to the size of the village, most decisions are made together, and the village’s denizens are encouraged to actively participate in the decision-making process as much as possible. And indeed, many decisions had to be made. According to Pecenka, the village was in dire need of repair and construction of some of the basic infrastructure, such as a school and the sewage system. “One of our goals was to try and bring our village into the 21st century,” he says. “To that end, we had two major tasks: to bring the village to life and to invest in its infrastructure.” One of the first moves was to settle the ongoing feud between the volunteer firefighters – “there was a long-standing dispute among the firefighters and many of them didn’t speak to each other.” The village council helped reconcile the embattled sides and it also invested in firefighting equipment which further bolstered the morale of the fire brigade. “The firefighters are now getting along quite well,” Pecenka says with a smile. In addition, the council started organizing concerts and other events aimed at bringing the villagers together.
The next step was to get the village’s infrastructure back in order. “I am a real estate lawyer and I have worked on many construction projects,” Pecenka says. He explains that one perk of his profession is being familiar with developers, engineers, and other service providers. So, he invested his experience, expertise, and connections in completing the much-needed sewer system. “The sewers were in the plans for the last 20 years, but the village simply couldn’t afford to build them. The cost of the construction was estimated at CZK 75 million, which Podolanka’s mere CZK 5 million annual budget just couldn’t cover,” he adds. This time around, though, the village managed to secure financing for the project. “We managed to successfully apply for a grant for EU funds that covered 65% of the cost, and another 10% was covered by a subvention from the regional authorities.”
Difficult as it was, the sewer project did not discourage Podolankans from taking on new projects. Pecenka reports that, about July 2021, the new water supply network was completed. Furthermore, three streets were renovated with new roads and sidewalks. He also proudly notes that the groundwork for the construction of an elementary school had been laid. “The school development is a project we are undertaking jointly with two neighboring villages,” and, once constructed, the school will be attended by up to 600 students. Finally, the village authorities have taken strides to attract new people to the village, according to Pecenka. “We have entered into an agreement with two developers for the construction of around ten family houses annually, which are planned to be sold to Prague people looking to relocate from the city.”
Despite all the accomplishments under his belt, Pecenka looks towards the future with the same fervor. “I have a lot of ongoing projects and I would like to continue with their implementation,” he says cheerfully. With many more projects he plans to start, one question remains – how does he cope with being both a successful lawyer and a hands-on vice mayor? Does he feel burdened by the never-ending tasks and responsibilities? According to Pecenka, it’s quite the opposite. “I like doing this,” he shrugs the question off. “To work on something and see it grow in your hands, there is no greater satisfaction.”