Montgomery Sister Cities Board Minutes for January 8, 2013
Attendees: Raffa, Adams, Barre, Nance, Smith, Levey, Ayele, Walker, Mitchell
In Bill Hudnut’s absence, Bill Nance acted as chair and led the meeting.
As the Secretary position remains vacant, Kelly Mitchell recorded the minutes.
Members of the delegation that visited China were in attendance, as were members of local Chinese associations to present an overview of the trip to China and the Chinese city recommended as the next Sister City.
Lily Qi presented the overview of the China trip. In total, the trip spanned two weeks and four cities. The trip began in Shanghai (Pudong). Shanghai is home to five million people, generates 25% of China’s GDP, 50% of foreign trade, 30% of foreign investment and attracts 70% of overseas returnees. Maryland has a longstanding relationship with China and is a sister state with Pudong. The state of Maryland funded the building of Maryland Center China (“MCC”), which is the first US Center in China. MCC facilitates investments and trade between Maryland and other states and China.
From Shanghai, the delegation visited Qingdao in Shandong, which is a major seaport and economic center. Qingdao is home to more than eight million people and is one of the top five cities from a business perspective. The delegation moved on to Benxi, Lianong, in northeast China. This city was similar to Pittsburgh in that it was China’s “Steel Belt” but is in transition. Within the city of Benxi is the development of a new city to be known as the Medicine Capital, where new universities are being constructed. The China Medical University here wants to partner with Johns Hopkins. They are also looking for hospitality partners, such as Marriott and Choice Hotels. This city could make a good economic partner, Qi said, but was not recommended as the next sister city.
Xi’an was the final city on the agenda and was recommended as the next sister city. Xi’an was the most “traditionally Chinese” city of all the places visited. It is where old China meets new China. It was home to 15 Capital Dynasties historically, has the third highest concentration in the country of colleges and students with 10 universities, is third in the country for science and technology, and the third largest international metropolis in China. The incoming Chinese president is from this area and it is expected that this city will gain more attention as a result. The city is in the process of growing from 3.7 km2 to 307 km2. The city has an educated work force and offers a low cost of doing business, Qi explained. The MD Port Authority is poised to partner with Xi’an for an international trade and logistics port.
Xi’an already has a U.S. sister city. However, that relationship has been inactive. The Montgomery County Chinese community was asked if it supports Xi’an as the Chinese sister city. All community associations in attendance confirmed that they were, and said they were excited about the partnership. They confirmed that they would be committed to making sure that embassy support and local fundraising would be available as well. Xi’an has also shown a commitment to the county by sending a delegation to visit in December, 2012, and planning a second visit in April, 2013. An official trip by the county to Xi’an is being organized for September. It will be led by the county executive.
The board unanimously approved Xi’an as the next sister city. The Chinese association representatives departed from the meeting after the vote.
Minutes from the October 3, 2012 board meeting were approved. Executive director Bob Levey gave an update on what has occurred over the last quarter and items in progress.
To date, approximately $1,000 in Friends of Sister City memberships have been sold. He has engaged a new volunteer who has been successful in booking speaking engagements and appearances. He is hoping that through these efforts he can generate enough support to garner $1,000 of membership sales monthly. Immediately upon receipt of the donation, Levey sends a letter of thanks. He also emphasized a need to do separate fundraising for the overall health of the organization and the individual sister cities. He is looking for ideas to meet the specific needs. The volunteer accountant will be leaving for three months for tax season, so Levey thought this was a good opportunity to bring in someone new to take over the accounting. He has found someone new that will be starting immediately—new board member Samim Ardeishar of Grossberg LLC.
There have been some issues with finances, Levey said, such as having to carry $20,000 in cash to Ethiopia to fund the delegation trip. He recommended creating a purchase order system from which only he and Bill Nance can approve expenses. The board was in support of the purchase order system, which will be one of the first tasks for the new accountant.
Levey is also creating a new brochure that will be published by sometime in the spring. He requested board members to provide testimonials to be included. Levey has also applied for a $25,000 grant from the county, which the organization has a good chance of being awarded, he said. The grant is typically awarded in late spring and paid in September. The money will be used to hire a new person (non-volunteer) to handle administrative work. Finally, Levey acknowledged the new board members in attendance, Elsie Walker and Solomon Ayele.
Levey also gave an update of the India sister city that is planned for 2014 in light of the negative press on the treatment of women. Levey and Bruce Adams met in early January with an Indian community group, which affirmed that there shouldn’t be any political fallout from choosing an Indian sister city. The group said that women are treated respectfully in the city and throughout the country. Nonetheless, due to the publicity, the organization will be watching the situation closely and delaying the choosing of the Indian sister city until a less turbulent time. The plan is still to have 10 sister cities over the next few years but this goal will be managed based on the capacity of the board. Both China and India are deemed important partnerships for the county, but timing will be important.
Kelly Mitchell gave an update of the new website, which is up and running. Board members were requested to provide updated biographies as soon as possible to be added to the site.
New board members were unanimously approved – Gene Lawson, formerly of Export-Import Bank, Samim Ardeishar of Grossberg LLC and Beverly Walker-Griffea of Montgomery College. The secretary position remains vacant.
Levey gave a financial report. He confirmed that the organization is current—it has no receivables and no payables. Questions arose concerning how expenses were reported. Levey stated that once the new accountant comes on board, some of the issues should be resolved. He and Ayele will sit down to discuss how they would like the income and expenses for Sister Cities to be reported, he said.
Discussion then ensued concerning the filing of taxes. It is unclear whether taxes should have been filed in previous years but it is believed that there will need to be a filing for 2012. The new accountant will also be tasked with figuring this out.