February 22, 2014 Board Meeting
Montgomery Sister Cities Board Retreat Minutes for February 22, 2014
Place: Silver Spring Civic Building
Attendees: Chair Theresa Cameron, Bruce Adams, Mumin Barre, Lorna Forde, Evelyn Gonzalez-Mills, Neftali Granados, Bill Kaschak, Bill Nance, Diane Smith, Solomon Teklai, and Elsie Walker
Absent: Samim Ardeishar, Devin Doolan, Bill Hudnut, Tom Raffa, Carol Rhees, and Beverly Walker-Griffea
Staff: Dave Robbins, Senior Fellow; Diane Vu, Asian Liaison OCP; and Daniel Koroma, African Liaison OCP
Facilitator: Reemberto Rodriguez
Guests: Ram Konda, India Sister City Committee; Allison Ray, University of Maryland; and Nan Qiao, China Sister City Committee
Note: Bill Kaschak was elected to the Board by email votes after the December 12, 2013 Board meeting.
Welcome & Check-In
Facilitator Reemberto Rodriguez, director of the county's Silver Spring Regional Center, welcomed members as they arrived and asked them to place dots on a world map indicating where their favorite grandmother was from and a place they had lived a decade or more.
Chair Theresa Cameron opened the meeting at 9 a.m. by thanking Reemberto for facilitating the meeting and welcoming Board members, and asking new Board member Bill Kaschak to introduce himself.
Affirmation & Talents
Reemberto Rodriguez asked each Board member to identify places they have lived and to share the gifts they received from those places. Here are some of the gifts shared by Board members: dignity, beauty, welcoming, belonging, understanding, open mindedness, thankfulness, always being there for me, art, music, and dance, opening my mind to how people see poverty, how generous people can be, life beyond the beltway, sense of simplicity and community, sense of inclusion, how to treat others, and opportunity.
Solomon Teklai spoke of the feeling of belonging as the gift Montgomery County has given to him. Reemberto said that Montgomery County has intentionally sought diversity and that people come here to experience that diversity.
How We Do Our Work: Board Roles & Responsibilities
Chair Theresa Cameron explained that she had formerly been Chair of Maryland Nonprofits and pointed out the importance of staying aware of Board responsibilities. Theresa noted that some founder based nonprofits sometimes ignore the fundamentals of organization at their peril. She distributed copies of the Bylaws of Montgomery Sister Cities (attached) and noted that we are out of compliance with a number of items in the Bylaws. The Bylaws call for a youth member as well as representation from the County Council and Department of Economic Development. The Bylaws limit service on the Board to three terms and require members to live or work in Montgomery County. She pointed to confusion over the quorum rule.
Theresa Cameron noted the importance of Board members becoming more engaged in the work of the organization. She suggested the need for a calendar of upcoming meetings and events. She polled Board members and found support for weekday meetings to start at 6:30 p.m. and to be held in Silver Spring or Rockville. She asked Evelyn Gonzalez and Solomon Teklai of Montgomery College for help in recruiting one or two student members. Bill Kaschak suggested broadening the age of youth to 16 to 26.
Dianne Smith pointed out that the Bylaws require an annual meeting of members of the organization.
Theresa Cameron suggested we poll members on years served and clarify the quorum rules. She pointed out that the importance of keeping minutes up-to-date and noted that the Bylaws require us to have a Secretary.
ACTION: Dianne Smith volunteered to serve as Secretary and was elected to that position by the Board.
Bruce Adams asked the Board to clarify how the representatives of the country committees are to be selected. By consensus, the Board agreed that each active Sister City country committee would designate one representative to serve on the Board as a voting member.
Theresa Cameron suggested creating a Bylaws committee. Dianne Smith noted that she had helped write the original Bylaws. Theresa read the mission statement of Montgomery Sister Cities:
People have come to Montgomery County, Maryland from every corner of the globe. Montgomery County Sister Cities Inc. was established to connect Montgomery County to the world by encouraging and fostering friendship, partnership, and mutual cooperation through educational, cultural, social, economic, humanitarian, and charitable exchanges between the people of Montgomery County and people from various nations around the world. The organization's objectives include:
(a) Encouraging the people of Montgomery County, Maryland and the people of similar communities in other nations to acquire information about each other and to understand one another as individuals, as members of their community, as citizens of their country, and as part of the family of nations.
(b) As a consequence of such knowledge and information, fostering a continuing relationship of mutual concern between the people of Montgomery County, Maryland and the people of similar communities in other nations.
(c) Undertaking activities and programs as well as providing the appropriate cooperation, assistance, education, and mutual understanding between Montgomery County and similar communities in other nations.
(d) Participating as an organization in the promoting, fostering, and publicizing of local, state, and national programs of international cooperation. ACTION: Board members agreed to reaffirm the mission. Bill Kaschak asked how we measure progress against the mission statement. Bruce Adams said that he had just selected a summer intern from the Princeton Internships in Civic Service (PICS) program who will produce a critical analysis of the Montgomery Sister City program that concludes with recommendations for improving future mission trips and building strong and sustainable programs with our current and future Sister Cities.
Honoring History & Understanding
Bruce Adams explained the background of Montgomery Sister Cities. 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 as the new OCP director was to establish a Sister City program. Bruce explained that 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.
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. El Salvador is the number one country of origin of Montgomery County's immigrant population. 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). 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 County Executive on the joint Sister City and Economic Development Mission Trip to China.
Theresa Cameron noted that the Board members should be more engaged in the Sister City trips. Bruce Adams agreed and pointed to the tremendous value of having Board member Bill Nance on both the preliminary and signing trips to Ethiopia.
Evelyn Gonzalez explained that the Morazán committee meets every other month and that the group goes to Morazán once each year to refresh the relationship. Neftali Granados noted with pride that the group had passed leadership to a new generation. He also noted that Morazán has 26 municipalities and that the Sister City committee was responsible for getting the mayors to work together across party lines. Neftali described several of the committee's highest priorities including support of several Hometown Association projects, the purchase of computers for a computer lab for Morazán's new community college and Habitat for Humanity's commitment to build 45 houses and rehabilitate 45 others. He noted that the annual fiesta raised nearly $7,000 to support these programs.
Solomon Teklai explained that the Gondar committee raised $15,000 for the 2012 exploratory trip and $11,000 for computers for an elementary school and is developing a partnership with the International Medical Corps. He explained that one challenge is that not all Ethiopians want to work with the government and that the Gondar committee is working to overcome that. Daniel Koroma, African liaison in the Office of Community Partnerships, introduced Allison Ray, a graduate student at the University of Maryland who is working with the committee on a strategic plan. Daniel noted that Montgomery College has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the University of Gondar and that a number of African Americans accompanied the County Executive on the 2012 trip.
Diane Vu, Asian liaison in the Office of Community Partnerships, explained that her predecessor as Asian liaison Lily Qi now serves as special projects staff in the Office of the County Executive. Lily worked with several Hometown Associations and ultimately recommended Xi'an as our Sister City. Lily organized the County Executive's Joint Sister City and Economic Development Mission Trip to China in September. Diane introduced Nan Qiao, chair of the Sister City Committee of the Northwestern Chinese American Association of Greater Washington (NCAAGW). Nan explained that his organization has 300 members and is the largest Chinese hometown association in the Washington region. He explained that he was part of an exploratory group that visited Xi'an in 2012 with Lily Qi. He said the Sister City committee held a very productive first meeting the previous weekend and will target economic development, education, and cultural exchanges. Diane noted that the Sister City process in China requires several steps, and that we have just received approval from the provincial level for a formal Sister City relationship.
ACTION: The Board unanimously elected Nan Qiao to the Board as the representative of the China country committee.
Diane Vu reported that Dr. Sanjay Rai of Montgomery College is the leader of our committee working to develop a Sister City in India. The committee, which includes Maryland Delegate Aruna Miller, has been meeting for nearly 18 months and has surveyed the Indian community and proposed Hyderabad in southern India because of its blend of modern and traditional, its bio tech industry, and its religious diversity. Diane introduced Ram Konda of the Indian committee. Ram explained that he traveled home to Hyderabad in December with a letter from County Executive to the Mayor asking about the possibility of becoming Sister Cities. The Mayor promptly replied expressing his enthusiasm for becoming our Sister City. This will require approval from the national government. The County Executive is planning a Joint Sister City and Economic Mission Trip for mid-November 2014.
Bill Nance suggested we need more definitive selection criteria. Solomon Teklai noted that there has been some confusion about the role of the Gondar committee vis-à-vis the Montgomery Sister Cities Board and the county government. Bruce Adams apologized for any confusion and said that each country committee is responsible for taking the leadership to develop the Sister City relationship in their country. Dianne Smith said Board members are too divorced from what is going on with the country committees. Bill Nance responded that the Board can not do all the work and that is why we created the country committees. Theresa Cameron suggested the Board should be giving more direction to the country committees. Elsie Walker asked if we should not limit our Sister City relationships to counties. Bruce Adams explained that other countries have very different governmental systems and that our flexibility has been very helpful in framing appropriate partnerships. Evelyn Gonzalez said the country committees really need support. Elsie suggested Board members should serve on country committees.
Treasures & Capital
Theresa Cameron asked what our goals are for fundraising. She pointed out that fundraising helps engage more people. Bruce Adams pointed out that former Senior Fellow Bob Levey concluded that there is "no value proposition" for businesses to contribute to Montgomery Sister Cities. Bruce reminded the Board that Bob created a membership organization, Friends of Montgomery Sister Cities, that gives members a pin and promises them quarterly newsletters for $20. Theresa Cameron noted that the Board never discussed fundraising as a Board responsibility. But first, she said, we need to discuss what we would fundraise for – support the country committees? Support the World of Montgomery Festival? promote cultural awareness?
Bruce Adams pointed out that we have left fundraising to the country committees. Mumin Barre asked where that money goes and if it was sufficient to leave the fundraising to the country committees. Bill Nance noted that the Board has organizational responsibilities that go beyond the activities of the country committees – dues to Sister Cities International (SCI), newsletters, flyers. As Board members, our contributions merely cover our dues to SCI. We need to do more, Bill said. Dianne Smith asked what fundraising other Sister City organizations do. Bruce Adams pointed out that every member of the Board contributed $100 or more in 2013. Lorna Forde said the Board should support the country committees and not leave all the fundraising to them. Evelyn Gonzalez said the country committees need more from the Board than just money. They need expertise, for example teacher training.
Dianne Smith asked if our finances were centralized in one account. Bruce Adams explained that we have one bank account and that we keep records for each country committee. Dianne asked what oversight the Board should have over country committee fundraising. Theresa Cameron suggested fundraising for dues, materials, website, and part time staff. Reemberto Rodriguez reminded us that our fundraising should not compete with country committee fundraising. Theresa Cameron said membership is friend raising, not fundraising. She pointed out that events are labor intensive and that she is not interested in another annual fundraiser.
Diane Smith said board members should support the country committee fundraising. Mumin Barre asked if the country committees should pay dues to Montgomery Sister Cities. Evelyn Gonzalez said NO! Solomon Teklai suggested that if the Board supported country committee fundraisers, Montgomery Sister Cities could get a percent. Theresa Cameron raised the possibility of grants from the county or foundations. Elsie Walker said we should look into citizen exchange grants from the State Department. Bill Kaschak pointed out that federal and international grants are very labor intensive and very competitive. Theresa Cameron asked about raising money from groups of former Peace Corps, AID, and similar organizations. Bill Nance said we first have to raise the money to cover recurring costs and then move on to the next level of adding capacity. Bill Kaschak said we have to show the donor will receive value. Theresa Cameron said that is why we have to articulate our value clearly. Elsie Walker suggested approaching local foundations. Bruce Adams pointed out that some of the world's largest international consulting groups are based in Montgomery County. Ram Konda said that it should be easy to sell thirty tables at $500 each.
Closure & Check Out
Theresa Cameron suggested we create a committee to establish goals, another to revise the Bylaws, and a third for fundraising. We need a calendar of meetings and events that includes an annual meeting. She warned the Board members that she is famous for annoying, follow-up emails. Solomon Teklai suggested we pick a theme for the year, perhaps education. Diane Vu reminded the Board that she is working with a volunteer to revamp the website and should have a draft by the end of March. She confirmed that she is looking into including on-line giving.
Theresa Cameron thanked all the board members, staff, and guests for a productive meeting. She said this was the first time she really felt connected.
A group photo was taken and the meeting adjourned at approximately 12:30 p.m.
Note: Soon after the retreat, Chair Theresa Cameron received an email from Elsie Walker thanking Theresa for hosting an excellent retreat but saying that work pressures require her to resign from the Board.
APPROVED by Board at May 14, 2014 meeting.