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.