After returning from a recent visit to Columbia County's sister city, Nowy Sacz, Poland, county Commissioner Barry Fleming said he was filled with hope for the future - even in the midst of a national tragedy.
He said the sister city program, which began between Columbia County and Nowy Sacz in 1990, could take on a broader scope of importance in the coming years in the U.S. fight against terrorism.
Fleming said the former mayor of Nowy Sacz is a member of the Polish parliament. And the current mayor, which the Columbia County delegation met during its Sept. 1-8 trip, could soon be voted in as a new parliament member as well.
''I know of at least two members that will have had good relations with the U.S.,'' he said while making a presentation of the county's trip to Poland at a Board of Commissioners meeting. ''And I have all the confidence in the world that those will be two voices that will speak strongly for the U.S.''
The sister city program was initially started to forge international relationships and to promote democracy after the fall of the Soviet iron curtain. This year, a group of about 17 Columbia County delegates traveled to strengthen the bond, presenting the representatives of Nowy Sacz with a $5,000 check to help them recover from a recent flood disaster. Floodwaters and mudslides there killed six people and caused more than $75 million in damage.
Columbia County also has announced it will offer a scholarship to the students of Nowy Sacz to allow them to attend a nearby business college. Fleming said there is an economic slump in Nowy Sacz, and attending a good college there is often a luxury.
While in Nowy Sacz, Columbia County officials dined with residents and representatives and presented them a framed mural of pictures from former trips as a gift. In return, Nowy Sacz representatives gave the representatives a clock with a likeness of Nowy Sacz city hall painted on it.
Residents there also have been signing a book of condolences to send to the country in wake of the attacks on New York and Washington.
''These people were hurt,'' said county Commissioner Jim Whitehead, who attended the Poland trip. ''They were concerned and wanted to make sure we were alright.''
While Fleming understands that national governments will have the biggest role in the fight on terrorism, he said that in his case, the bonds of a coalition have already been formed on a local level.
''As far as international relations go, I think local government has had a role,'' he said.
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