I am intrigued by the recent coverage of what might be called the 'Tuscany affair'. As I mentioned in a recent blog entry - I am very supportive of the Sister Cities program and there are great opportunities for us to learn from these cities. But, I personally believe we need to expand our thinking beyond just cultural exchange and promoting travel or wine sales. Perhaps we can try to close the apparent sister city interaction gap (SCIG*). As a 'pilot' in the Pilot your City effort (more formally called the Neighborhood Leadership Institute), Anne Debray - now living in France, Daya Bill - now living in New York City, and I were a project group looking into how public involvement and customer service are carried out in Charlottesville compared to how it is done in Pleven, Bulgaria - one of our sister cities. We discovered some similarities, but many differences we though worthwhile to explore as possible options for Charlottesville. We even had a one-hour meeting in March 2007 with Jenny Dimitrova who was a staff member from Pleven visiting Charlottesville. This meeting was a terrific opportunity for us to share ideas and to expand our thoughts on fostering meaningful public involvement, providing effective customer service, and other related subjects.
My recommendation to whomever winds up going to Tuscany to spend some time addressing SCIG on the trip. They could connect with sister city leaders, staff, and citizens about opportunities for information sharing as well as cultural exchange. In the current council campaign, taxation and budgeting are issues discussed at every forum and common topics in one-on-one conversations I have had with Charlottesville voters. One way to address SCIG that I have been pondering is to collect pie-charts of the city budgets from the three sister cities and explore the similarities and differences in income streams and expenditures among these three cities and Charlottesville. We might identify some exciting new ways to address our taxation and budget concerns. I am optimistic that a review of how our sister cities address common issues facing all of these cities will lead to intriguing possibilities for improving what we do in Charlottesville. I hope our delegation to Tuscany will find time to identify information sharing opportunities like this.
If I am elected to council on Tuesday, I will encourage city staff and other elected officials to explore along with interested citizen groups and individuals how we can get significant return from interactions with our sister cities. With some clear leadership in this area I am certain future city expenses associated with fostering sister city interactions will generate both good will and tangible benefits to us all and reduce SCIG.
*I couldn't resist the urge to use an acronym here. I am not a big fan of acronyms, but being a just invented term (by me) and to keep in the spirit of blogging I went with it.