County Executive Ike Leggett established the Office of Community Partnerships (OCP) in 2007 to strengthen ties among all Montgomery County residents by reaching out to ethnic minorities and nonprofit and faith organizations. Drawing on the resources of Sister Cities International to form a local program was among his first proposed initiatives. Established in 1956, the mission of Sister Cities International is to encourage bonds and partnerships between cities around the world, focusing on people-to-people relationships rather than government-to-government diplomacy. The model continues to be implemented in numerous American cities and communities, with many establishing multiple Sister Cities relationships. OCP director Bruce Adams enlisted the help of Bill Hudnut (1932-2016), a former congressman and mayor of Indianapolis and Chevy Chase to recruit a diverse group of engaged citizens to serve as board members and incorporate Montgomery Sister Cities as a 501(c)(3) community-based nonprofit organization.
In 2009, the board hosted a community forum to gather public input on prospective Sister Cities. Demonstrating much energy and initiative at the forum, Montgomery County’s Salvadoran community suggested Morazán, El Salvador, as the county’s first Sister City. Many of Montgomery County residents had fled Morazán during the Salvadoran Civil War (1979-92). El Salvador is also the country of origin of most of the county’s immigrant population. A year after a delegation of twenty Montgomery County residents visited Morazán, Leggett signed the county’s first Sister City agreement with Governor Miguel Angel Ventura Argueta on July 26, 2011. Seventy-five county residents and officials witnessed the signing ceremony.
A few months later, the county executive’s African Affairs Advisory Group expressed interest in establishing an African Sister City. Some 300 county residents participated in a nine-month-long process that involved seven African nations and resulted in the recommendation of Gondar, Ethiopia, to the board. Ethiopia is the country of origin of the majority of Montgomery County’s African immigrant population. On September 27, 2012, Leggett signed Montgomery County’s second Sister City agreement with Deputy Mayor Getinet Amare of Gondar in the presence of nearly forty county residents.
A year later, Leggett and Dong Jun, mayor of Xi’an, China, signed a letter of intent in the 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 in 2013. In 2014, Leggett finalized a Sister City agreement with Xi’an.
A fourth Sister City agreement was completed on November 14, 2014, when the county executive and the mayor of Hyderabad, India, Mohammed Majid Hussain, signed an agreement in Hyderabad. Forty Montgomery County community, government, education, and business leaders witnessed the historic event.
Supporters of Montgomery County’s four Sister Cities gathered at the Rockville Memorial Library on January 13, 2015 to celebrate the first six years of the county’s Sister Cities. Theresa Cameron, who was elected board chair in December 2013, joined Leggett in presenting founding board chair Bill Hudnut with a framed certificate of appreciation for his six years of service to Sister Cities; he was praised for recruiting board members, incorporating the organization, and steering it during the selection of the county’s first three Sister Cities. The “Montgomery Sister Cities: Report to the Community 2009-2014” was also released at the meeting.