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Sister Cities Committee weighs boost to student musicians' China trip

Posted: July 16, 2012 - 12:02am

The Juneau Sister Cities Committee debated extending support Friday for a local music ensemble the committee’s chairman said is attempting to organize a trip to the People’s Republic of China next summer for 25 students.

Chairman Tom Chard said he had suggested the Juneau String Ensembles arrange to send the students to one Chinese city in particular — Mishan City in Heilongjiang Province, one of Juneau’s five sister cities.

“I just offhandedly mentioned to them that, you know, Juneau has a sister city in China, and it would be fantastic … if the Sister Cities Committee could join with them to try to do some fundraising to get the students over there,” Chard told the committee. “If we as the Juneau Sister Cities Committee would like to support this group of students going over to China and hopefully get them to our sister city in Mishan City, I think it would be a worthwhile endeavor.”

Jeremy Frank made a motion to support Chard’s recommendation, but it was ultimately withdrawn.

Glenn Gray, the committee’s secretary and treasurer, said he supported the idea, but indicated he was reluctant to back the motion without more specifics.

“We should probably look into … our ability to fundraise, how we might be able to do something without getting cross-ways with the city,” Gray added. The committee is appointed by the City and Borough of Juneau Assembly and serves in an advisory role.

“Because (the Juneau String Ensembles) are an organized nonprofit, my recommendation would be that they actually handle all the money,” said Chard, who suggested the committee’s role could be “promotional” in support of a private company’s fundraising event. “That will dodge the bullet on the CBJ rules.”

Sue Baxter, the committee’s vice chairwoman, said she wants more communication with Mishan City before the committee makes plans to support a potential exchange.

“Before I will support a fundraiser, we need to have contacts in that city,” Baxter said.

The Sister Cities Committee is hampered by a dearth of contacts, particularly in Camiling, Philippines; Chia-Yi, Republic of China (Taiwan); and Mishan City. Committee members alluded to difficulty in finding information about Chia-Yi and Mishan City and communicating with officials in both cities during the meeting, and the Camiling relationship was described as “dormant.”

Relationships with the Yukon territorial capital of Whitehorse and the Russian Pacific port city of Vladivostok, Juneau’s other two sister cities, have been more active in recent years. A student exchange between Juneau and Vladivostok is tentatively planned for next summer, Baxter said at the meeting.

Neither the musical director nor the board president of the Juneau String Ensembles could be reached for comment on the meeting Friday.

Friday’s meeting was the first for the Sister Cities Committee since former member Adrien Lopez resigned June 12 to take a job in Washington, D.C. But the committee did have a fifth participant — Juneau resident Maria Uchytil, who said she had applied for Lopez’s seat and joined in some of the committee’s discussions.

The CBJ Assembly Human Resources Committee will meet Monday to address that vacancy, among others.

• Contact reporter Mark D. Miller at 523-2279 or at mark.d.miller@juneauempire.com.

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