The Civil Affairs Jury
Suseong-Gu(District) Office

The Problem

Angry residents picketing in front of government offices and around new construction sites are detrimental to the continuing harmony of any community, and may create peace and safety hazards. Such protests undermine an emerging sense of participatory governance and democracy and raise questions of how well government serves the people. The challenge was to convert passion to prudence, to move the controversy from the streets to orderly proceedings.

Suseong District (“Suseonggu” in Korean) is one of eight local autonomous governmental Districts within the Metropolitan City of Daegu, Republic of Korea (South Korea). The District, of 460,000 residents, has become the fastest-developing area of the city, and the center of many land-use disputes. It is home to the much of the new middle-class and upper-middle class for the city: the District claims the highest personal median income of the eight metropolitan districts, and hosts the highest “”educational happiness index” score in the nation. Expensive high-rise apartments have become the new standard housing unit in Suseong as many home buyers perceive that high-rise buildings equate to more upscale living. With educated and financially-comfortable residents coming to what was once a sleepy semi-rural area, land values have climbed and the general sense of “community” has changed. Awareness of personal rights has grown, especially rights relating to infringements on individual and neighborhood lands. Environmental concerns have risen as well. As land prices climbed, developers became increasingly sensitive to the price of land versus total return on the development project, leading to a larger number of dense-use property development applications.

At the same time, democracy has taken firm root at the local level in Korea. No longer is democracy understood merely as voting for elected officials, it has become an avenue for an individual or small community to assert rights and defend assets. Thus, the decision of a government functionary to approve a new property development, such as high-rise apartments, is no longer accepted by neighbors as inescapable. This was demonstrated by increasing complaints to government officials, public demonstrations, and media reports of community unhappiness.

Similarly, though to far less extent, permits for business licenses or structural alterations to existing buildings were challenged by neighbors who felt such permits infringed upon neighbors. It became apparent that the traditional “authority from above” would no longer be satisfactory to citizens in the 21st century. Government had to change, or voters would make changes in elected government.

Solution and Key Benefits

 What is the initiative about? (the solution)
Citizen complaints to issued land-use permits are problematic on many levels, among these being that the land owner has already invested in work after the permit was approved, and that citizens have become unhappy with city operations. Individual city staff, even specialty departments, can hardly be everywhere and see everything from residents’ perspective. Furthermore, due to an unfortunate history of governmental favoritism and corruption and a general lack of transparency prior to the 21st century, it was not surprising that residents exhibited a considerable lack of faith in the permit process. The decision was made to open the windows in the permit system.

The civil affairs jury system was initiated to provide external input to the District’s decision-making processes. No longer would citizen complaints be sent to district staff who could safely ignore them. Nor is this a citizen’s referendum, with delayed and costly voting by those who may not understand all the issues, but instead a mechanism where external experts could hear the voices of concerned stakeholders and help craft a mutually-acceptable outcome. All stakeholders may be present in a public forum, where input from all sides can be heard by all involved, and the jury – those with moral influence and established professional credibility – were recognized by all players.

Where 5 or more complaints are received to an announced permit application, a civil affairs jury is initiated. City staff are involved in managing the jury process, in terms of announcing hearings, organizing the jury pool, and providing administrative services to the jury. The city, however, does not control the hearing nor affect the outcomes of the hearing. The jury is drawn from a pool of pre-registered experts from a variety of fields, including university faculty, attorneys, private (licensed) financial and construction professionals, religious leaders, and NGO officials. The permit applicant and a single representative for those who object to the permit are the principal “adversaries” in the hearing, but based on time available, other stakeholders (from the audience) also speak. Jury members, led by their jury president, ask questions of participants and aim for mediation.

Where the issue is not resolved, a re-hearing may be scheduled. The jury is not the final appeal in the administrative process – and civil court is also an option for those who are disappointed in the District’s civil affairs proceedings.

A true case: A developer obtained land and applied for a permit to build two 20-story “OfficeTel” (mixed commercial-residential unit) towers. 269 neighbors objected that these towers would infringe upon their right of sunshine on their property, increase traffic, etc. The builder insisted that the plans are consistent with zoning regulations. Through the work of the civil affairs jury the developer agreed to reduce the height of the western tower to reduce the impact of building shade on the adjacent lands and decrease residential traffic.

Actors and Stakeholders

 Who proposed the solution, who implemented it and who were the stakeholders?
As part of monthly executive meetings in the District office, various ideas are floated and some are sent out for citizen comment through both formal and informal channels, while others may be sent to staff for research: some concepts may do both, even more than once. During the late 1990s the issue of protecting citizens whose rights might be inadvertently injured due to civil affairs processes was a frequent item of discussion. As the result of a long-term brainstorming/incubation process, it is impossible to identify individual authors of what became the civil affairs jury, but the English-American citizen jury courts were clearly an influence in including those outside of officialdom in the decision-making process. Ultimately, the mayor and senior executives agreed to proceed with the rough concept, and sent the project to the Civil Affairs Team for development. The preliminary proposal was referred to Legal Affairs and various other departments likely to be impacted by the project.

The civil affairs jury is managed by Civil Affairs Team on behalf of the relevant department for the permit under review. While the great majority of jury hearings are related to new construction (94%), hearings related to permits for business licenses and structural alterations in existing buildings have also been administered for the pertinent city agencies.

As described by the enabling regulations, the stakeholders for the civil affairs jury hearing process may include everyone residing within the District. As a practical matter, stakeholders might be confined to those who perceive that their own interests are impacted by the issuance of the particular permit in question. During the past decade 37,903 citizens, or more than 8.2% of the residents of Suseong District, have directly engaged in public governance through the civil affairs jury. We suggest, however, that the sense of participatory governance has spread beyond the participants to foster a sense of well-being throughout for those who know they can appeal to the process when necessary. All Suseong District residents are stakeholders in the process.

Practicality also dictates that not all the jury members are actually residents of Suseong. Some live nearby but work further way, others live further away but work in nearby universities or professional organizations. The greater Daegu metropolitan region includes not less than 15 universities and colleges, and is home to a number of regional institutes and professional societies as well as NGOs. Local residents appreciate the valuable expertise available beyond the District’s boundaries. While staff develop the jury pool (collection of experts in wide-ranging fields), ultimately the elected mayor determines the final jury selections for each hearing. The jury then selects their own president, who manages the hearing.

(a) Strategies

 Describe how and when the initiative was implemented by answering these questions
 a.      What were the strategies used to implement the initiative? In no more than 500 words, provide a summary of the main objectives and strategies of the initiative, how they were established and by whom.
Koreans have been aware of the American “jury trial” for many decades. American TV shows have been popular, and the idea that those who are not “law professionals” would decide the outcome has always had a significant appeal. (Only after this civil affairs jury system was started in Suseong has the Korean judicial system adopted jury trials for very limited numbers and types of cases.) The idea that all stakeholders would have an opportunity to “present their case” on contentious civil petitions before an impartial committee of experts who were not government officials therefore was considered to be very attractive. These civil affairs jury hearings were designed to empower the community, increase transparency in governmental decision-making, increase stakeholders awareness of the needs and interests of others, reduce the gap in decision-making between “government” and citizen, and enhance a spirit of justice as the jury attempt to find outcomes that satisfy all parties. Thus, it was important that stakeholders not feel that the city was secretly manipulating the process: the attendance of the Deputy Mayor at one hearing was negatively received and made this aspect of the process abundantly clear. A “mediation” process was seen as more attractive than any kind of “arbitration,” particularly sense the adversaries could still appeal to higher city authorities and the judicial courts.

Prior to the civil affairs jury system, the civil affairs team had been chiefly concerned with swift execution of its duties. It was discovered, however, that the delays needed to send information to concerned citizens in an active manner is a wise investment in avoiding unnecessary delays in the administrative process and alleviate distrust of government. Active communication became a priority for the jury system. It was a learning process for all concerned. The District’s (official) newspaper and website were early avenues for publicity, since both enjoy high readership. The website, in particular, receives many “hits” as various applications can be initiated or completed online (more than 60,000 hits per month). Local media announced the new regulations as an innovation in government.

Notifying neighbors of permit applications was not new to this process, but allowing for time to hold the juries required new approaches to responding to citizen input. No longer were these irritating “objections” to routine processes, but an opportunity to increase participatory governance.

The early civil affairs jury hearings received significant notice through the District’s media and word-of-mouth, such that awareness of the program grew far faster than the permit process itself would have suggested.

(b) Implementation

 b.      What were the key development and implementation steps and the chronology? No more than 500 words
Due to the long-term early development process, it is unclear who or when the process initiated. The executive meetings between mayor and department heads are not recorded, and less-formal discussions also played a role in idea maturation. It is estimated that the approximate initiation of what could be identified as a jury appeal process might be a verbal order from the mayor in September 1999 to the head of the civil affairs team. The civil affairs team consulted with other departments, such as the architectural division and legal affairs department, to ensure appropriacy of the new rules. The preliminary regulation was drafted and presented to the mayor in January 2000.

The new civil affairs jury regulations were announced to the District Council (elected legislature) on February 21st, 2000. With no objection from the council, it is treated as a local ordinance. Regulations were amended in September 2001 after the first year trial results.

The civil affairs jury system works in the following manner:
1. An application for a city permit (new construction, renovation, etc) is filed with the relevant District Office.
2. District staff in relevant departments confirm that the application meets existing regulations, including land-use zoning, construction/architectural laws, and administrative processes.
3. District staff post notice to neighbors of the permit application.
4. Neighbors file objection to the permit.
5. Where 5 or more objections are received from within the impact area, an internal meeting is held by the competent division to mediate the differences, if this fails, a civil affairs jury hearing is scheduled.
6. Jurors are selected by civil affairs team staff and confirmed by the mayor.
7. Civil affairs team staff are assigned to assist in the jury hearing.
8. The jury selects their president.
9. The hearing is held.
10. At the conclusion of the hearing, an announcement is made on a resolution, or non-resolution.
11. A re-hearing may be scheduled.
12. If necessary, a revised permit request is filed to reflect the outcome of the hearing
13. A permit is issued, or denied, by the relevant department.
14. The permit may be challenged through legal measures at the metropolitan appeallate division or in the judicial courts.

(c) Overcoming Obstacles

 c.      What were the main obstacles encountered? How were they overcome? No more than 500 words
There have been no significant issues in the development of the program. There are issues in the execution of the project that are addressed in specific instances. As noted above, the Deputy Mayor’s attendance at an early hearing was seen by participants as potential meddling in the work of the outside experts. The response by the District has been to remove senior officials from the process.

More challenging, however, has been the attempts by some residents to use the hearing process for their own pecuniary benefit. The threat of extended delays through repeated hearings or judicial court processes may suggest that a developer would be wise to “buy off” the objections. The internal mediation meeting (step 5 in section 4b, above) was added to the process to help identify this issue before the jury hearings were scheduled. This process has led to a reduction in the number of jury hearing held without reducing public support for the program.

(d) Use of Resources

 d.      What resources were used for the initiative and what were its key benefits? In no more than 500 words, specify what were the financial, technical and human resources’ costs associated with this initiative. Describe how resources were mobilized
An innovative citizen-driven conflict-mediation program that generates a significant level of public awareness of their rights and opportunities to participate in the local governance process has been created that reflects well on the local administration. The civil affairs jury reduces the significant financial and social costs of marching protesters while adding very little to administrative costs of permit processes.

The civil affairs jury system is low maintenance, which is an important factor in the continuing support it receives from government officials. A significant amount of effort went towards publicity of the program in its early days, as without citizen involvement the program could never succeed. The District office’s website and Suseong News (District newsletter) provided most of the initial publicity, and it has greatly benefited from word-of-mouth publicity by residents.

Citizens initiate the jury hearing process through their petitions, citizens provide both the “research” information and the “petitioner” (the person who presents the “complaint” to the jury). Other citizens – experts – serve as jury for nominal compensation of only 100,000won (roughly USD90) per 3- or 4-hour day, including some on-site inspections. Pride in having served as a citizen juror has become important “compensation” in its own right.

Three staff are assigned to each jury hearing (part-time assignments) to handle the issues related to the administrative process. No net staff increase has been required as the number of jury hearings have been modest and District personnel levels are limited (staff to resident ratio is lower than most other local governments). Depending on the particular issues of the case, additional staff time from the relevant departments (example, Architectural Division) may be needed.

Sustainability and Transferability

  Is the initiative sustainable and transferable?
Since commencing the civil affairs jury system in 2000, over 200 jury hearings have been held. During this time, more than 30 local governments have visited Suseong to learn more about our jury system, and 10 have benchmarked our system as they instituted their own. (Those governments include City of Seoul, Gyeongbuk Province, Yeosu Cheollanamdo, Dong-gu District of Daegu, Dong-gu District of Daejeon.) Other local governments are exploring the project, such as Suwon City. There is no reason why transferability is limited to South Korea, nor limited to particular types of civil applications.

As indicated in Section 4d (above) the cost to operate the jury is minimal, which we believe makes the design very sustainable. There are no reasons envisioned which would lead to termination of the program. Transferability would also require a similar sense of local democracy and citizen empowerment, and a willingness for government to release control and increase transparency.

Transfer of this civil affairs jury process into governments where corrupt relationships between real estate developers and certain government officials exist would result in significant decreases in corrupt decision-making. The jury does not require educated or elite jurors, only those knowledgeable of the affairs under consideration. The inclusion of the public audience and the lack of authority of the jury to force a decision ensure that the rights of all are maintained and citizen awareness of their rights is enhanced.

Lessons Learned

 What are the impact of your initiative and the lessons learned?
Initiation of the civil affairs jury system brought about an immediate and ongoing reduction in complaints to District offices as citizens became aware of a productive way to effect change. This in itself could be considered a positive outcome, but the benefits are not limited there. We believe that the process has also brought about a heightened level of consideration for neighborhood impact by developers.

The number of jury hearing requests increased significantly in early years (awareness by citizens) and then decreased in more recent years (awareness by developers and the inclusion of the internal meeting, along with a general decrease in new building permit applications for large developments due to an overall real estate downturn. It is impossible to identify cause and effect perfectly, but the many instances where the jury hearings have successfully remediated conflict between developers and neighbors are strong evidence that the system works, and that government can do more by having government staff make fewer decisions, allowing non-government actors to settle issues.

One of the important lessons from the civil affairs jury system is that citizens’ do not insist on the right to decide, they insist that the decision be transparent and fair to all parties. Considering the strong protests movements in Korea in the 1980s and the still developing sense of participatory citizenship, this was something of a surprise. Citizens do not deny the rights of landowners (and developers) to make good use of their property, nor do they insist on absolute control by the community, but that the rights of all stakeholders be respected.

Looking inwards, government officials may use these open hearings as a measure to compare against various administrative processes, to identify where closed systems may be made more transparent and participatory. Considering the merits of public participation may allow for less focus on administrative or political expediency. Instituting the hearings is a learning process for citizens and government servants alike. It has been found that by informing citizens of the issues, and providing knowledgeable resources, the community will find the will to resolve conflict.

Contact Information

Institution Name:   Suseong-Gu(District) Office
Institution Type:   Government Agency  
Contact Person:   Ji Hyun Ha
Title:   Development Officer  
Telephone/ Fax:   +82-53-666-2113 / +82-53-666-2119
Institution's / Project's Website:
Address:   2450 Dalgubeol-daero
Postal Code:   706-701
City:   Suseong-gu, Daegu Metropolitan City

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