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Hwaseong mayor strives to support city’s rapid growth

‘Virus of incompetency’ more harmful than COVID-19 for regional governments, says Seo Cheol-mo

Hwaseong Mayor Seo Cheol-mo (Hwaseong City)
Hwaseong Mayor Seo Cheol-mo (Hwaseong City)

Starting his fourth year in office, Hwaseong Mayor Seo Cheol-mo is far from complacent in his governing duties for a city rapidly growing across all sectors.

While regional economies have been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic and the social distancing measures that ensued, Seo believes the real “disease” local government should battle against is their “incompetency.”

“New variants of the coronavirus continue to emerge, but there is no need to be excessively afraid.” Seo said.

“What is more worrying is the spread of the ‘virus of incompetency’ among regional governments, seen from how they handled with the pandemic crisis.”

With an adamant and undeterred leader and its regional characteristics embracing both rural and urban lifestyles, the city of Hwaseong, Gyeonggi Province, has been attracting more people and investors in recent years.

Three years ago, Hwaseong had a population of 720,000. With the number growing to some 890,000 this year, the population will likely soon surpass 1 million.

As the city is growing, revitalizing the regional economy suffering from the COVID-19 pandemic crisis is the highest priority for Seo.

“It is an urgent mission to recover life for small-business owners who are suffering from the social distancing measures amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Measures of living support are crucial to normalize the livelihoods of the people and regional economy,” Seo said.

As part of that effort, Hwaseong has adopted a special loan program to lower the interest burden for small-business owners, Seo explained. The city also issued vouchers worth some 300 billion won ($252 million) in total, which can be used like actual money in traditional markets and local shops inside Hwaseong.

To foster future growth engines, the city has also been setting new business strategies with Hwaseong Industry Promotion Agency in the lead. The mayor said he seeks to establish the foundation for semiconductor industry in the city.

“Corporations contribute greatly to the economic development of regional societies,” Seo said, stressing the importance of his role in creating a “corporate-friendly” city.

The latest population increase has also created more work for the city. With administrative demand growing proportionately, Hwaseong will reorganize its administration systems to fulfill the various needs, according to the mayor.

The mayor also said he would do his best to bring in major train and subway stations connecting to Seoul and other areas.

Improving the city environment for child-rearing is another area of focus for Seo, as the city boasts one of the largest infant populations in the country.

For parents in the city, Seo said he will introduce eight major support plans to adhere to needs of the different stages of child-rearing, from pregnancy to childhood education.

Seo also did not forget the city’s long-desired infrastructure construction projects, such as Hwaseong International Theme Park, a tram in the Dongtan area and an independence memorial hall, which will all be carried out according to plan.

Raising hopes for the new projects, Seo said he will do his best to resolve conflicts that may occur between residents and neighboring local governments.

“I will communicate with all interested parties and provide information to prevent these development projects for Hwaseong City leading to conflicts between the residents and the neighboring regions,” Seo said.

Seo, a former Air Force officer, also said he will work hard to reverse the discussion of relocating Suwon Military Airport from Suwon to Hwaseong. Hwaseong residents have been strongly opposed to the relocation plan following the decision of the Ministry of National Defense and city of Suwon in 2017.

“I will work to make it (the ministry) review its relocation plan from the very beginning again,” Seo said. He also said he will come up with measures to preserve the Hwaseong Wetlands and provide a natural space of recreation for the some 25 million people in Greater Seoul.

In his past three years serving as the city’s mayor, Seo has sought to attain local autonomy and build a foundation for sustainability. Toward that goal, Seo said he created civic communication platforms where residents can directly explore pending regional issues and propose policies, such as the Hwaseong Citizens’ Regional Conference and Online Citizens’ Policy Advisory Group.

“I believe participation and autonomy are the fundamental key values for regional governments. I want to stabilize a system that can draw people’s participation and guarantee their rights,” Seo said.

By Jo He-rim and Park Joung-kyu (herim@heraldcorp.com) (kys@heraldcorp.com)
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