TARPON SPRINGS — They wanted to know about the city's planning and development process. They also wanted to know how solid waste is handled in the city, and how and why Tarpon Springs became known for its natural sponge.
They were mayors and ministry leaders from cities in Saudi Arabia and they were in Tarpon Springs on Monday to pick the brains of the city's mayor and its department heads.
"This is very helpful and the exchange of experience and ideas is of benefit for both of us," said Mohammed A. H. Almokharrij, the mayor of Taif Region.
The eight-man group's two-week stay in the United States is part of the International Visitor Leadership Program, which brings about 5,000 foreign nationals from all over the world to America to meet with professional counterparts, according to the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs Web site.
The visitors are selected by American Foreign Service Officers overseas and are current or potential leaders in government, politics, the media, education, the arts, business and other fields.
The group started in Washington, D.C., last week and visited Burlington, Vt., Tampa, St. Petersburg and Tarpon Springs. They head back to Washington, D.C., this week.
Tarpon Springs Mayor Beverley Billiris served as host and the visit started with a meeting in her office. She gave a history of the city and answered numerous questions stemming from the delegation's fascination with Tarpon's ability to grow and cultivate natural sponge.
The visitors then moved to a conference room where they questioned several city department directors with the help of a translator.
Since she's been mayor, Billiris said she's hosted dignitaries from 30 countries. Visitors have come from China, Africa, Israel, Greece and South America. A few weeks ago, it was a group of women from Lebanon.
"This is enormously important," Billiris said of international exchange between countries. "We are looking globally and we are looking for economic growth. You never know. They may be interested in doing a development in our city. It's good to have these kinds of relationships open."
Demorris A. Lee can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 709-6026