Thursday, November 1, 2007

Being a World Class City - and a Good Sister City

The article "Tuscany trip spurs scrutiny" by Barney Breen-Portnoy in today's Daily Progress got a fair bit of attention today on the morning radio talk/news shows. I read the article early this morning prior to being a guest on the Joe Thomas radio show on WCHV 1260-AM. A friend of mine said she heard this discussed on WINA 1070-AM this morning, too. I was asked about this issue on-air and my immediate thoughts are as follows:

I am a strong supporter of Charlottesville having a multifaceted sister city relationship with cities around the world. I remember when Pleven, Bulgaria was becoming a sister city several years ago and city council then refused to spend even a nickel of city money to support the time and travel of Gary O'Connell (our city manager) in his interactions with officials at Pleven. At that time, I spoke up for the city participating in providing some financial support for this effort, but to no avail. Now it appears that the city may have gone far in the opposite direction on the spending continuum.

If the primary goal of this trip is to establish a student exchange program, I personally believe it would be very useful to have perhaps one school official; one councilor; and a teacher and/or a student on the trip to have a broad range of stakeholders in the program represented. In fact, if this is to be primarily a school related issue, perhaps even the councilor could be dropped from the group.

But, if this trip is intended to be a multifaceted program exchange, some other group might be desirable. It is my impression that our sister cities in general have a desire for a broader range of exchanges than is currently the case in Charlottesville.

As a strong supporter of broad involvement in city decisions, I would recommend that future trips of this type be developed consistent with clearly stated objectives, and with all stakeholders able to help put together the best plan of action. As Joe Thomas said during our on-air conversation on this issue this morning, "Couldn't this all be arranged by email?" My hunch is that there may be more dimensions to this interaction than can be successfully handled by email, but I think the city could have presented the goals and suggested way to meet those goals to the general public earlier in this process to get feedback in a timely manner. With more people thinking about the goals and suggesting paths to reach those goals, last minute questioning of the plan would likely not happen.


dairymaid said...

Peter, the issue is not whether there should be a student exchange program -- the issue is the lack of transparency in the decision making.
At Thursday's school board meeting every member except for Alvin Edwards was surprised by this trip. Obviously this decision had been made by the three travelers without any consultation with the other members. I agree with you that a teacher would be a logical choice to go on such a trip. Kendra Hamilton will not be around to help City Council consider any program, and David Brown and Alvin Edwards may not either. A teacher could help fashion an exchange program which could integrate our existing history or foreign language ciricula. Currently there are people in Charlottesville who volunteer their time to help arrange exchange students to come here. also each year several of our students go abroad to study. These folks have experience in these matters which have not been tapped. Not one traveler has this kind of experience. In short, it's a vacation. When you are elected, many may disagree with your specific decisions. However if those decisions are made in public
you will always be viewed as a person of integrity, unlike these five.

Cville Voter said...

Peter, thanks for blogging on this. Your post is admirably diplomatic.

Many people are upset about this issue, but that's probably due in part to the fact that it's only the latest in a series of really poor errors in judgment made by some of our city officials. Unfortunately, this one had a particularly awful "in your face" quality to it. Not good right before an election.

Sadly, the word I hear over and over about these folks is "arrogant." Whether they are or not, that's how they are perceived. That's a problem. So it's time for a change.

To those on the Council and school board, and those who will be newly elected on Tuesday: It's an honor to be chosen to serve your fellow citizens. You were elected to a leadership position because people trusted you when you said that you wanted to make C'ville a better place, and that you'd listen to them with an open mind when they had issues or ideas.

Nobody said it was going to be an easy job, and it's often a thankless one. But since YOU'RE the one sitting up there on the dais, you have to practice noblesse oblige. Don't be dismissive and rude to the citizens who come before you.

Do your homework, read what's in your packets before the meeting, and don't act like a know-it-all (because none of us knows everything).

Have some guts, be brave. If staff makes a mistake, understand that they're human too. But fix it and move on-- stop circling the wagons. We get plenty of that already from BushCo and don't want it on a local level too.

Please commit the following word to memory:
Transparent (adj)-- Capable of transmitting light so objects on the other side can be seen clearly.

In a few days, many of us will be voting for transparency, integrity, and guts. That means Peter Kleeman.

Anonymous said...

Dairy Maid and Cville Voter........I absolutely agree with you both!!

Ned Michie and Kendra Hamilton have sent out an email to parents defending themselves....They seem to think their only offense was not talking about it in public. Even if they had, I would have been against it. Teachers are being told there is no money for supplies and professional development. There is work to do here at home first.

Anonymous said...

So what's happened? Have the shameless ones gone on their vacation junket funded by the school system?