CERIGNOLA — Franco Metta is the mayor of the small town of Cerignola, located in the southern Italian region of Apulia. He recently received a box of biscuits as a Christmas gift from a local businessman, but upon opening the box he discovered 20,000 euros ($21,120) expertly rolled into two packs of 10,000 each — not the gift the sweet-toothed mayor was expecting. The mayor immediately filed a complaint with the local police, accusing the businessman of bribing him to gain favor to win a contract for his company.

Metta is the same mayor who briefly rose to prominence six months ago for controversial remarks he made at a public ceremony. In a poorly-filmed video, the mayor — well-dressed and wearing an Italian tricolor sash — berates a child for flunking and repeating his year in school, shouting at him to "study, stupid!"

In Cerignola — Photo: Janssem Cardoso

Metta's brusque tone and methods drew the ire of many Italians, who cast him as a villain also in part for his conservative party ties. The child himself was far less upset and hugged the mayor for another minute, surprised to encounter someone who was willing to reprimand him.

Metta was made out as a villain for lecturing the child, and hailed as a hero for refusing the bribe — but what if the two events are connected? In large cities we go on constantly about the importance of so-called "values", perhaps to fight the toxic smog seeping in. But out in the provinces, or at least in Cerignola, "values" are something far more simple and less ethereal: study and don't steal. Come to think about it, it's a perfect policy for the future.

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