Bill Boerum, chairman emeritus for Sister Cities International, reached out to Vancouver a second time on Shchelkovo’s behalf.
“I’m not sure how this was transmitted to you (in Russian for sure and likely with an English version), or into whose hands it may have been delivered. Our friends in Russia are awaiting the courtesy of an acknowledgement, and more hopefully an indication of your consideration of the invitation,” Boerum wrote in an email to the city council. “I hope that Vancouver will give genuine consideration to Shchelkovo’s warm-hearted invitation.”
The city did consider the invitation, albeit briefly.
“We sent a letter thanking them for their offer and telling them we’re not interested,” said Jan Bader, Vancouver’s program and policy development manager, who oversees the Sister City program.
Bader added that Vancouver turns down most Sister City requests because of the financial commitment.
“There’s also the question ‘What benefit does our city get out of this?’ ” she said.
Did You Know?
The Sister City program was created in 1956 by President Dwight Eisenhower during a conference on citizen diplomacy. Eisenhower envisioned the program as a facilitator to form bonds between different cities to encourage peace and prosperity.
Journey to Joyo
Vancouver’s first interaction with Japan was in 1984 when a delegation from the Columbia River Economic Development Council visited the country. By 1986, the Marshall House in Vancouver was hosting a Nihonga-style art exhibit sponsored by two companies, Wacoal and Kyocera. Joyo presented a Nihonga artwork to Vancouver two years later. The piece hangs in the Marshall House. The first citizen exchange began in 1996 after the Sister City partnership was official.
There’s some tracking of the relationship in the form of a city document titled “Celebrating Friendship,” but Vancouver doesn’t keep a list of gifts given or received and a local delegation rarely visits Joyo anymore unless already in Japan on other business. Visiting Kyocera headquarters, for example, may afford a pit stop in Joyo. But Joyo delegations continue to visit regularly, including a stop in April for the annual Sakura Festival at Clark College.
Bader said the city relies on private sponsors to fund Sister City relationships.
“Washington state doesn’t allow you to use public money to support Sister Cities,” she said. “You can pay for staff time, but all the other things that go along with the Sister City program — hosting people, travel, gifts, all of that kind of stuff — you have to raise private dollars for.”
The relationship with Joyo is sponsored by the Rotary Club of Vancouver.
“You have to have some kind of community partner who’s willing to shoulder that private fundraising piece,” she added.
Bader said when Shchelkovo reached out to Vancouver, she checked with The Historic Trust as a potential sponsor but was turned down.
“We just think about who the logical community partner would be in one of these,” she said.
Trust Executive Director Mike True said he thinks the Sister City program is great for the community, but Pearson Field, where Chkalov completed the historic flight, is now managed by the National Park Service.
“It really wasn’t our place to be the main steward,” True added.
The city did try to formulate a relationship with Dubrovnik, Croatia, in 2013. Bravo! Vancouver, a local concert promotion company, offered to sponsor the relationship. Bravo!’s Michael Kissinger serves as a guest conductor with the Dubrovnik Symphony Orchestra.
Unfortunately, Bader said, Dubrovnik never responded to Vancouver’s outreach.
Camas and its sisters
Camas takes a different approach to Sister Cities. The city benefits from the Camas Sister City Organization, a 501(c)(3) volunteer-based organization.
“We receive funding from membership dues, donations, and a small contribution from the city of Camas,” said Jennifer Myers-Power, chair of the Camas Sister City Organization.
Vancouver’s Sister City
Joyo, Japan is Vancouver’s lone Sister City.
• Founded: 1972. (Vancouver: Founded 1825.)
• Population: 76,869. (Vancouver: 174,826 in 2016.)
• Size: 12.6 square miles. (Vancouver: 46.46 square miles in 2016.)
• Industry: Joyo is known for gold and silver threads. Joyo produces 60 percent of all gold and silver thread in Japan.
• First visit of Joyo representatives to Vancouver: 1986.
The group’s funding allows Camas to sustain five Sister City relationships in two countries: Hamamatsu and Taki-cho in Japan, and Morawica, Zabierzow and Krapkowice in Poland. Myers-Power said the organization formed in 1984 when the first Sister City, Hamamatsu, became official.
Hamamatsu stems from a friendship between a Camas teacher and his Japanese colleagues when he taught in Japan during the 1980s.
Sharp Corp.’s move to Camas brought Taki-cho’s partnership along with it.
The relationship with the three Polish cities grew from involvement in the Washington City/County Managers Association and its organizations: The Foundation for the Support of Local Democracy and The Forum of Sekretarze, Myers-Power said.
“We host exchanges yearly on a student level and slightly less frequently we hold adult exchanges, as well,” she said.
Camas still entertains offers for additional Sister City relationships, Myers-Power said, but the decision does depend on donations.
“We take each offer under consideration depending upon our financial position and how full our calendar is,” she said.
Vancouver hasn’t considered trying out a new funding method that might allow for additional Sister Cities, Bader said. The city continues to rely on Rotary and fundraising by the mayor to fund its current Sister City relationship.
“Along with other groups, like Rotary, we’re looking for opportunities that foster peace and understanding,” said Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle, who was involved with Joyo before being elected mayor last year.
She values the opportunity Joyo’s relationship brings to discuss global tensions and celebrate culture.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity to see what’s going on outside your little village,” she said.
Sister Cities around the state
Other Southwest Washington cities with sisters:
Wako City, Japan
elsewhere in washington
Vela Luka, Croatia
Mola di Bari, Italy
Pyeongchang, South Korea
Kladno, Czech Republic
Cheongju, South Korea
Port Stephens, Australia
Punta Arenas, Chile
• Des Moines
Changle City, China
Qionghai City, China
Gunpo City, South Korea
Sovetskaya Gavan, Russia
• Federal Way
Donghae, South Korea
• Friday Harbor
Vela Luka, Croatia
• Grant County
Gunpo City, South Korea
El Grullo, Mexico
• Kittitas County
Okinawa City, Japan
Damyang, South Korea
• Mercer Island
Thonon les Bains, France
• Moses Lake
• Mount Vernon Chilliwack, B.C
• Port Angeles
Mutsu Shi, Japan
• Port Townsend
Vani Municipality, Georgia
Van Municipality, Georgia
Beer Sheva, Israel
Christchurch, New Zealand
Daejon, South Korea
Boryeong, South Korea
Gangjin, South Korea
Chechon, South Korea
San Luis Petosi, Italy
El Jadida, Morocco
George, South Africa
Kiryat Motzkin, Israel
• University Place
• Walla Walla
• East Wenatchee
Joyo’s delegation will once again return to Vancouver this spring to attend the annual Sakura Festival. McEnerny-Ogle said she’ll use that visit to discuss mutual concerns about North Korea and the economic impact of China.
As to the possibility of expanding Vancouver’s Sister City program, the mayor also conceded funding is an issue.
“I’d love to expand it,” she said. “But it comes with a financial cost.”
Knowing now that Camas is able to maintain five Sister Cities, McEnerny-Ogle said she’s going to take Mayor Scott Higgins aside and see what Vancouver can do to follow suit.