A group of more than 15 representatives from the Governors Association of Korea visited Metter on Monday as part of a statewide tour led by Rusty Brooks, associate director of the international center of the Carl Vinson Institute of Government at the University of Georgia.
As the group gathered in the Council Chambers of Metter City Hall, they were greeted by Mayor Billy Trapnell, City Manager Joseph Mosley, County Commission Chair Glyn Thrift, Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Jaime Riggs and Archway Professional Betsy McGriff. Also joining them for the welcome were Carvy Snell and Jerri Goodman of The Metter Advertiser. Joining them later in the day was Susan Reinhardt, coordinator of operations for the UGA Archway Partnership.
The visit to Metter was arranged so the delegates could learn best practices in local government, an area of particular interest as the majority of attendees are from local governments of South Korea.
The group, the majority of which was on their first visit to the States, was then provided a tour of the community, with stops at Guido Gardens and Candler County Hospital before visiting several agricultural stops — and having the opportunity to stand in peanut fields and under pecan trees! Lunch at Bevricks was followed by a tour of the new K-8 facility and Hendrix Produce.
The group returned to City Hall later in the afternoon for a question-answer time, speaking to local hosts through a translator
Of particular interest to the visitors was the camaraderie among the local newspaper and the governing officials, which, the group agreed by consensus, is very uncommon in their homeland.
Also, questions were asked regarding how the community attracts and retains younger residents. Attendees were surprised to find that the largest age demographic in the Candler County area is people age 37-50; especially surprising, according to one visitor, who said that at 77 years of age, his father was one of the youngest residents of his village. Most of the younger generation, they reported, move to the larger cities, abandoning the villages of their childhood.
Television, it seems, has left a negative impression of crime and violence in America, especially as the South Koreans view programs depicting gun fights and constant crimes. They have been pleasantly surprised, Brooks reported, to find that what they have seen on television is not reality.
Trapnell quickly pointed out that while the community does have a drug problem, overall crime is low in this area.
The autonomy of the local government — the ability to make decisions without input from the national government — was another area of special interest. Even the hiring and firing of city personnel in South Korea has to be done through the national government, the guests reported.
Even property taxes are collected for the national government, who then distributes it to the local levels of government, the guests explained.
The mayor was asked how conflicts were handled in local government. He spoke of how individuals can express their pleasure or displeasure with government through elections and can also approach the city officials through city council meetings. The group was told that very seldom — practically never — are protests held in front of city hall.
When the mayor was asked to define the principles he thought were most important for being a city mayor, his response was that he, along with the council members, view their job as public service; they do not see themselves as politicians. He also stressed the values of honesty and integrity and a willingness to serve.
Addressing the group just before the visit concluded, Brooks spoke of the visits to the larger communities this past week and said, “This is the first place they could come to meet real Georgians. We are indebted to you for your hospitality.” Addressing the officials from Metter, he added, “And you have gotten a chance to meet some wonderful people from a great country.”
Gifts were then presented to the Mayor from the South Korean guests and to the visitors from the city and chamber.
The visitors had been in the United States for seven days when they arrived in Metter following a visit to Savannah. Other stops included Atlanta, where they watched a Braves game, and Athens. They are scheduled to return to their home country on Friday.