CRITICS ASSAIL SISTER-CITIES PROGRAMS BACKERS DEFEND USE OF TAX MONEY AS GOOD BUSINESS
South Florida Sun - Sentinel; Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; Sep 9, 2001; Leon Fooksman Staff Writer;

Abstract:
PHOTO; Staff photo/Jim Rassol (color) SISTER-CITY SOUVENIRS: Delray Beach Commissioner [Patricia Archer], right, and Charlotte Durante, president of the Delray Beach Sister Cities program, display some of the fabrics and artifacts they bought in sister-city Moshi, Tanzania. No tax money was used to purchase these items, the two said. SISTER-CITIES EXPENSES Seven Palm Beach and Broward cities participate in public-private partnerships to develop relationships with what are called sister cities. The programs, around since the 1950s, are increasingly dependent on taxpayer money. City Sister city 2000-2001 sister-city budget Boca Raton Spandau District, Berlin, 0 Germany Boynton Beach Qufu, China 0 Deerfield Beach Akko, Israel 0 Delray Beach Miyazu, Japan; Moshi, Tanzania $4,000 Fort Lauderdale Gold Coast, Australia; La Romana, Dominican Republic; Mar del Plata, Argentina; Margarita Island, Venezuela; Medellin, Colombia; Mugla, Turkey; Rimini, Italy; Sao Sebastiao, Brazil; Sefton, England; Panama City, Panama $20,000 Hollywood Ciudad De La Costa, Uruguay; Guatemala City, Guatemala; Herzliyya, Israel; Romorantin, France; Vlora, Albania $5,000 Sunrise Yavne, Israel $480 *The figure is for 1999-2000. City officials didn't provide the costs for the current year. SOURCE: Sister Cities International and City Governments
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(Copyright 2001 by the Sun-Sentinel)

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Patricia Archer spent mornings in Africa touring parks, schools, a library, a bus station and factories.

Afternoons were for eating lunch and sipping tea with municipal and business officials. And evenings were for having dinner and cocktails with more local dignitaries.

For four days in February, the Delray Beach commissioner and seven other city business leaders visited Moshi, Tanzania, to develop cultural, humanitarian and economic relations between Delray Beach and the East African city at the base of Mount Kilimanjaro.

Archer was the only delegate to have taxpayers pick up her $3,190 travel expense.

But what taxpayers got out of it -- if anything -- won't be known for years.

"I'm hoping that as we have more and more exchanges between the two cities," Archer said, "we'll have a better understanding that will lead to financial investment."

Delray Beach -- like Fort Lauderdale, Hollywood, Miami, Miami Beach and Miami-Dade County -- spends thousands of public dollars each year on sister-cities programs, touted as a way to link citizens, businesses and schools across international borders to establish trade ties, student exchanges, sport competitions, relief efforts and arts exhibitions.

Program directors say the activities are paying off by drawing overseas tourists, teaching the public about distant cultures and creating business opportunities.

But critics contend the programs are nothing more than social clubs that lack accountability and direction. The public money, they say, could be better spent on neighborhood improvements, such as building small parks, repairing ball fields and slowing traffic.

"What makes me so skeptical is that there's been a small group of individuals that are using this as a ticket to travel the world at taxpayer expense," said Jose Smith, a city commissioner in Miami Beach, which has a sister-cities program with eight cities.

"I'm not convinced that the city is getting the benefits that outweigh the amount of money being funded. I want to see the city wean itself of these feel-good programs."

The city of Sunrise spent only $480 on its sister-city relationship with Yavne, Israel, this fiscal year, records show. And Boca Raton, Boynton Beach and Deerfield Beach spent no public money on their partnerships with, respectively, the Spandau district of Berlin; Qufo, China; and Akko, Israel.

The public-private partnerships have been around since the 1950s, but are growing more dependent on city, county and state funds to finance the distant friendships, according to records and interviews with program directors. In the past four years, Delray Beach increased its annual spending from $2,500 to $4,000, Fort Lauderdale from $20,000 to $32,000, and Miami Beach from $9,730 to $20,000.

Some of the most active programs get as much as a third of their money from public dollars.

The money is used for jetting politicians and administrators to far-away cities, buying gifts for their foreign hosts, and dining and lodging visiting dignitaries. It's also spent on attending national conferences, organizing festivals and exhibits, sending students abroad and flying emergency supplies to Third World countries.

The director of Miami Beach's program, Bruce Singer, defends the nearly $50,000 in city money spent in the past three years on trips to Japan and Brazil, hosting foreign visitors, office supplies, gifts, brochures and attending national sister-cities conventions.

Singer said the economic return is many times over what is spent on his program, which originated in 1959. He said the city's participation led to its hosting an international sister-cities conference three years ago, attracting 2,000 participants and millions of dollars for Miami Beach.

"I am aware of the fact programs like sister cities can be very easily misunderstood or in fact can be abused," said Singer, president of the Miami Beach Chamber of Commerce.

"You have the potential for travel being involved. The average taxpayer, and I'm a taxpayer, they're saying, `There's a politician traveling to the corners of the world.' They're saying, `Aha. This is at our expense.'

"Yet the explanation for this is so much more complicated. This is a program that has tremendous structure."

Sister-cities affiliations between the United States and other nations began shortly after World War II, and developed into a national initiative under President Dwight Eisenhower in 1956 in an effort to foster citizen diplomacy. The program has grown to about 1,280 American cities.

In South Florida, where tourism is a major moneymaker, sister- cities programs have emphasized activities to lure foreign visitors. But in recent years, cities like Fort Lauderdale focused their efforts on economic development.

Fort Lauderdale's program arranged meetings that paved the way for South Africa Airways to come to Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, and for two city-based firms to land $5 million contracts to develop a cruise port in Venezuela, said Randy Avon, director of the city's program with 10 foreign cities.

The city's $40,200 contribution to the program in the past three years paid for trips to China, France, the Dominican Republic, England, Argentina, the Netherlands, Denmark and Sweden, city records show. It also covered luncheons, souvenirs and membership fees.

City Commissioner Gloria Katz said residents could have received a small neighborhood park for that money. Katz said she is pleased the program is shifting from its concentration on lunch and dinner receptions to generating money, but she still isn't convinced that it is making much of an impact.

"I wouldn't be so concerned if I saw a good return," Katz said. "We should know where the money is going, and for what purpose, and what we're getting in return."

J.A. Ojeda Jr., director of the Miami-Dade County Office of Protocol, International Trade and Commerce, which runs the county's sister-cities program with 20 foreign cities, said he doesn't support using public money for travel and entertainment. He said his program's volunteers raise private money for those purposes.

"I see a lot of pitfalls in using money for entertainment," he said. "At what point is dinner necessary, and at what point isn't it? I don't know the answers to that."

His office did budget $350,000 this year for a staff of three to organize meetings and events.

Peter Hernandez, director of Hollywood's program, said public officials need to travel abroad to keep the sister-cities relationships active, and cities need to pick up hotel and restaurant costs for foreign dignitaries visiting South Florida.

Overseas trips aren't vacations, but they're not all work either, according to directors and itineraries.

Jet-lagged officials spend up to 16 hours a day meeting dignitaries and business owners and visiting businesses, schools, libraries, museums, beaches, parks, water and sewer plants and ports. But they also go to cocktail parties and dinner receptions and visit beaches and tourist sites.

Archer, the Delray Beach commissioner, said shortly after returning from Tanzania, she met with local business people about investing in hotels in that country, deals that could take years to negotiate, if they even come to fruition.

She said her trip produced relationships that will lead dozens of Tanzanian tourists to visit Delray Beach -- a city that receives tens of thousands of tourists every year.

As importantly, Archer hopes the program promotes culture and integrates the city's black residents, who often complain about feeling excluded from city affairs. The eight-member delegation to Tanzania included five blacks.

"This trip opened the door between our community and their community," she said. "We'll see a lot more to come."

Leon Fooksman can be reached at lfooksman@sun-sentinel.com or 561- 243-6647.
[Illustration]
PHOTO; Caption: Staff photo/Jim Rassol (color) SISTER-CITY SOUVENIRS: Delray Beach Commissioner Patricia Archer, right, and Charlotte Durante, president of the Delray Beach Sister Cities program, display some of the fabrics and artifacts they bought in sister-city Moshi, Tanzania. No tax money was used to purchase these items, the two said. SISTER-CITIES EXPENSES Seven Palm Beach and Broward cities participate in public-private partnerships to develop relationships with what are called sister cities. The programs, around since the 1950s, are increasingly dependent on taxpayer money. City Sister city 2000-2001 sister-city budget Boca Raton Spandau District, Berlin, 0 Germany Boynton Beach Qufu, China 0 Deerfield Beach Akko, Israel 0 Delray Beach Miyazu, Japan; Moshi, Tanzania $4,000 Fort Lauderdale Gold Coast, Australia; La Romana, Dominican Republic; Mar del Plata, Argentina; Margarita Island, Venezuela; Medellin, Colombia; Mugla, Turkey; Rimini, Italy; Sao Sebastiao, Brazil; Sefton, England; Panama City, Panama $20,000 Hollywood Ciudad De La Costa, Uruguay; Guatemala City, Guatemala; Herzliyya, Israel; Romorantin, France; Vlora, Albania $5,000 Sunrise Yavne, Israel $480 *The figure is for 1999-2000. City officials didn't provide the costs for the current year. SOURCE: Sister Cities International and City Governments
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Sub Title:  [Palm Beach Edition]
Start Page: 
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Personal Names:  Archer, Patricia
Singer, Bruce
Katz, Gloria