Upon taking office in 2006, County Executive Ike Leggett established an Office of Community Partnerships (OCP) to help ensure that Montgomery County is an open and welcoming community to all of our residents and to strengthen our ties to ethnic minorities and nonprofit and faith organizations. One of the very first initiatives County Executive Leggett suggested to Bruce Adams as the new OCP director was to establish a Sister City program. Sister Cities International’s webpage showed that many communities now have multiple Sister Cities and that Sister City programs are meant to be people-to-people, not government-to-government relationships. County Executive Leggett asked Former Member of Congress and Mayor of Indianapolis and the Town of Chevy Chase Bill Hudnut to chair a Board to establish a Sister City program. Bill Hudnut recruited a Board and incorporated Montgomery Sister Cities as a 501(c)(3) community-based nonprofit organization. By June of 2009, the Board hosted a community forum to seek public input on prospective Sister Cities. The clear message given at the forum was that Montgomery County’s Sister Cities would come at the initiative of the residents, not the government. In December of 2013, Theresa Cameron was elected chair of the Board to replace our founding Board chair Bill Hudnut.
The Salvadoran community demonstrated the most energy and initiative at the June 2009 forum, and the Board began consideration of a possible Sister City in El Salvador. Morazán, the equivalent of a state in the north-eastern part of the country, was selected because many county residents had fled from there during the Salvadoran Civil War (1979-92). El Salvador is the number one country of origin of Montgomery County’s immigrant population. In August of 2010, a delegation of about twenty had a very successful visit to Morazán. On July 26, 2011, County Executive Leggett signed Montgomery County’s first Sister City agreement with Governor Miguel Angel Ventura Argueta. Seventy-five county residents and officials witnessed the signing ceremony.
The County Executive’s African Affairs Advisory Group expressed interest in identifying an African Sister City. Seven countries competed in a nine-month long process that involved 300 county residents and resulted in a recommendation to the Montgomery Sister Cities Board of Gondar, Ethiopia. Ethiopia is the number one country of origin of Montgomery County’s African immigrant population. On September 27, 2012, County Executive Leggett signed Montgomery County’s second Sister City agreement with Gondar Deputy Mayor Getinet Amare with nearly forty county residents in attendance.
In 2012, the Board was briefed on several possible Sister Cities in China and ultimately selected Xi’an. On September 20, 2013, County Executive Leggett and Xi’an Mayor Dong Jun signed a Letter of Intent as a first formal step toward becoming Sister Cities. More than eighty county residents accompanied the County Executive on the joint Sister City and Economic Development Mission Trip to China.