Six elected leaders and government officials from Afghanistan, Kosovo, Nigeria, Hong Kong, Uganda, and Korea recently spent a few days in Western Massachusetts to learn about local government. The group is visiting the United States through the Department of State’s International Visitor Leadership Program and were identified by American representatives at consulates and embassies abroad.
They kicked off their visit with a working breakfast, talking to veteran journalist Mike Dobbs, Managing Editor at Reminder Publications, who spoke about covering local politics. He brought up several themes that would recur throughout other meetings including the casino referendum taking place in Springfield that day. Dobbs touched on the visit in his opinion piece for the week available here.
The group then moved onto the Town of Longmeadow where they met with Paul P. Santaniello, representing the Select Board, and Town Manager Stephen J. Crane. They explained the five-person Select Board form of town government and described the role of the Town Meeting, following up with video of Longmeadow’s 2012 Town Meeting.
Hampden was next on the agenda where the Visitors toured the Hampden Senior Center, noting that it was being used that day as a cooling center due to the heat wave. They also were able to observe volunteers filling brown grocery bags with food items as well as part of the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts’s monthly Food for Elders Program. Lunch was provided at the Hampden Town Hall accompanied by a wide ranging conversation with Select Board President John Flynn and Town Moderator Robert Howarth. A reporter from The Wilbraham-Hampden Times covered the visit and an article is available here.
After returning to their hotel for a change of clothes, the group headed off to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame for a couple of hours of fun.
In the evening long time member and friend of the Council Ambassador Mark Hambley and his wife Patricia opened up their lovely home to host a panel on Springfield Civil Society featuring representatives from the Connecticut River Walk, Friends of the Library, the Springfield Museums, the Springfield Water and Sewer Commission, the Forest Park Civic Association, the Springfield City Council, and the Pioneer Valley Riverfront Club to discuss their organizations and how they work with local government to improve the quality of life for residents of Springfield.
Each International Visitor also had a bit of time to tell the group a little bit about themselves, their countries, and what they were hoping to get out of their visit to the United States. (Afterwards, our guest from Korea announced to a small group that that was the longest speech he had given in English in his life!)
The next day was devoted to Springfield, with a series of meetings at City Hall arranged by political consultant and World Affairs Council board member Tony Cignoli. Using the casino issue as a “frame” to learn about a wide range of topics, the group heard from Election Commissioner Gladys Oyola, City Solicitor Edward M. Pikula, City Councillor Thomas Ashe, and Communications Director James F. Leydon. During a tour they visited the Mayor’s Office, the Law Department, the City Council chambers, and the Elections Commission Office where they saw the bags of paper ballots from the previous day’s referendum. Video of WWLP’s coverage of the visit to City Hall here.
The final professional meeting of the visit was with Jon Weissman of the Pioneer Valley Central Labor Council who discussed the relationship between unions and state, local and federal government.
In the evening the Visitors went in ones and twos to the homes of four members of the World Affairs Council to enjoy intimate dinners.
The next day they took off for Salt Lake City and they will finish their stay in the United States in Minneapolis.