About Our Guest
Appointed by Council, the Charlottesville Sister City Commission is an organizing body devoted to assisting the individual Sister City relationships with community activities and promotion.
The City of Charlottesville is an active member of Sister Cities International, a nonprofit citizen diplomacy network that creates and strengthens partnerships between U.S. and international communities. This network strives to build global cooperation at the municipal level, promote cultural understanding and stimulate economic development.
Charlottesville proudly serves as Sister City to:
Sister Cities International is a leader for local community development and volunteer action. The program aims to motivate and empower private citizens, municipal officials and business leaders to conduct long-term sister city programs.
The newly formed Sister Cities Commission is always looking for citizens to participate in many capacities, CLICK HERE to find out more!
Jan Paynter: Hello, Iím Jan Paynter, and I would like to welcome you again to our program, Politics Matters. Our guest today is Charlottesville city Mayor Dave Norris. Mayor Norris was born into a military family at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, grew up in Stuttgart, Germany, and in Northern Virginia. He received a BA in politics and history from Curry College in Massachusetts and an MA in government from William & Mary. Mayor Norris moved to Charlottesville in 1995, was voted onto City Council in 2006, and elected mayor in 2008.
Professionally, he has served as [a] nonprofit director and in his civic life he has worked to promote affordable housing, to further the cause of social justice, and to advance responsible use of our environment. Dave is executive director for Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Blue Ridge, served as executive director of PACEM, is a founding director for Connecting People to Jobs initiative, and is coordinator for the Virginia Economic Development Corp.ís microloan program. He has served on the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority, Piedmont Housing Alliance, the Thomas Jefferson Area Coalition for the Homeless, and JABA. Welcome, Mr. Mayor.
Dave Norris: Thank you, good to be here.
Jan Paynter: Today weíre going to explore the topic of Charlottesvilleís sister city partnering relationships and what they can mean for our community. In an age which is as we all know increasingly global in every aspect of our lives, understanding the landscape of other nations can be a way of coming home for a country whose roots reach around the globe and back again. In preparing this program, I was discussing with a friend the off-cited idea that it is difficult to dislike, much less hate, an individual when you become to know and understand them. He then put me in mind of a quote by Lincoln which was more than apposite, ďI donít like that man, I must get to know him better.Ē This deceptively simple statement of truth is perhaps the best rationale for the need to consider city-to-city exchange and partnerships. First of all, Dave, letís hear a little bit about the organization Sister Cities International. What is it, and how does it function?
Dave Norris: Well, Sister Cities International is essentially a network of all the communities around the globe that participate in these sister city relationships. There are dozens and dozens of countries that are now members who have cities who are members of Sister Cities International who have paired up cities in one country with another country and, to promote international exchanges to encourage people to reach out beyond their borders, get to know people from another way of life, know their background, know their culture, and I think you really hit the nail on the head when you said that if you develop a relationship with somebody, if you get to know somebody, itís much harder to hate them, itís much harder to distrust them, and what sister cities is really all about is about building connections between peoples and expanding the horizons of people so that they can see thereís much more to the world than just whatís, you know, around the corner, or even, you know, a couple hundred miles away. Itís a great opportunity for residents of Charlottesville in our case to be exposed to cultures and ways of life that are quite different in some ways but quite similar in other ways, and Iím really pleased to see the program growing, and itís gotten tremendous support from the community here and I think thereís lots of opportunity in the future.
Jan Paynter: Well itís very exciting. How long has Charlottesville been involved in sister city coalitions?
Dave Norris: Our oldest sister city is about 30 years old, actually a little bit over 30 years old. It was created during the bicentennial. It was a partnership between Charlottesville and a city in Italy called Poggio A Caiano, and the reason [for] the connection with the bicentennial is that there was a gentleman named Filippo Mazzei who was one of, a close friend of Thomas Jefferson who was influential in the early days of the Revolution here in this country, and in honor of that friendship that those two gentlemen had, Charlottesville and Poggio A Caiano, which was Filippo Mazzeiís hometown, decided to create a sister city linkage back around the bicentennial and since then thereís been numerous exchanges back and forth between Charlottesville and Poggio, and thatís probably our strongest sister city relationship. Since then thereíve been three other sister cities, sister city partnerships created. We have a partnership with a city in France called Besancon, which our former mayor, Blake Caravati, was instrumental in setting up. We have a partnership with a city in Bulgaria called Pleven, which our former city manager, Gary OíConnell, helped to set up. And then most recently we have a relatively new sister city partnership with a city in Africa, in Ghana, called Winneba, which Iíve been very involved in along with some other folks here in Charlottesville, and itís been a wonderful opportunity.
Jan Paynter: I know youíre very excited about talking about that and at the end of the program I definitely want to hear from you about that. How do you go about choosing sister cities, when people think they might be interested in it? Whatís the criteria, what protocol do you have to follow?
Dave Norris: Well until recently there wasnít a set process or there werenít specific criteria for doing this. But a couple years ago, the City Council decided we want to formalize our sister city program, which had been a little bit loose nit in the past, formalize it, we actually created, two years ago we created a standing Sister Cities Commission, which local citizens are appointed to, to help oversee the sister city program, that commission, one of its first tasks was to come up with formal criteria for approving new sister cities so that it didnít happen just sort of randomly, but that there was a real thoughtful effort put into justifying it and, and advancing it. Winneba in Ghana was the very first city to go through that new process. Itís an excellent process, [it] asks a lot of questions about the nature, the potential nature, of the relationship, is there community support here in Charlottesville? Sister cities canít function, canít survive, if theyíre, unless theyíre really owned by the community, it canít be something that just one official does or one, somebody in City Hall takes on, itís really gotta be owned by the community, and so we wanna know is there community support for this to sustain it over time both financially and otherwise. Thatís the other thing, is that the city doesnít have, the city of Charlottesville doesnít have a lot of funding available for sister cities so most of the funding has to come from the community, from individual donors Ö
Jan Paynter: I see, I see.
Dave Norris: Ö business donors, et cetera. And so there is now an official criteria, thereís official commission, and itís in a real good place right now.
Jan Paynter: Do you choose them based on, sort of, the geography, similar institutions, a university, medical facility, or its community? How does that happen?
Dave Norris: Yes, all of the above. You want to look for, we want to, the goal is to try to find communities that are similar in that, you know, we wouldnít want to be matched up with a huge city somewhere where we may not be on similar paths or similar circumstances. The idea of sister cities is we can learn a lot from each other, both about how to provide public services but also we learn each otherís culture, we give opportunities for young people to travel back and forth to be exposed to other cultures. Thereís opportunities for business relationships, investment, trade. Thereís all kinds of opportunities so you wanna find communities that are roughly equivalent where we can foster those kinds of exchanges. Until recently we didnít have any sister cities outside of Europe, and the reality is thereís a lot more to the world than just Europe, and so Winneba in Ghana was our first attempt to break out of that mold, but, so I think geography is important, and I would say itís really if and when we get to the point of looking at additional sister cities, I would expect cities that would be in Asia or Central America or South America or the Caribbean, would probably get priority more than cities in Europe or even in Africa.
Jan Paynter: What is meant by the term, I encountered this, ďcitizen diplomacyĒ and how does it function in connection with the sister city process?
Dave Norris: Well, you know, itís similar in some ways to the Peace Corps, other efforts to engage American citizens in service and partnership with communities around the globe, where we can be, our people can be ambassadors for our country in a way that official ambassadors are limited. When we went to Africa or when I went to Italy, or others have gone to France or Bulgaria, you can create direct relationships with citizens of these other cities and stay in their homes and patronize their businesses and participate in their festivals and eat their food, itís citizen-to-citizen diplomacy that builds bridges between nations, and I honestly feel like if, you know, if you look at all the hot spots around the globe that are either active, thereís active strife or potential for strife, if we had, if there were more sister cities between those nations, between those peoples, where everyday citizens and local officials and business leaders and artists and students had developed relationships, I think people would be less willing to support strife and warfare and bloodshed.
Jan Paynter: It makes a lot of sense. One of the things Iíve noticed is Sister Cities International talked about was the fact that you could actually reduce the amount of terrorism Ö
Dave Norris: Oh sure, sure.
Jan Paynter: Ö an obvious point of what youíre talking about. How have you found, mayor-to-mayor partnering, how does that work and have you found it useful in terms of democratic governance? Shared ideas?
Dave Norris: Certainly. Iíve met two mayors now, well Iíve actually met three, but Iíve gone to visit the sister city in Italy and the other one in Winneba in Ghana, got to be able to sit down with the mayors of both of those cities, talk to the mayors about, you know, their communities, how governance works there. Itís fascinating, Iím a student of government and of politics and so I always enjoy hearing about how other parts of the world structure governance. You know, in Africa, for instance, in Ghana, I wonít get into a lot of detail, but thereís two separate basically lines of governance, you have the traditional governance, which is the chieftains, the tribal chieftains, who still have a significant amount of power and then you have the civil authorities who are elected or appointed similar to, you know, what we have here in this country. And thereís often tension between the traditional authorities and the civil authorities, and itís not entirely clear whoís responsible for what, so that for me as a student of politics is fascinating.
Jan Paynter: Oh it certainly is fascinating. OK, for practical matters, where does the money come from for this?
Dave Norris: I just said, the city puts in a little bit of money, not so much to fund trips for elected officials, most of that money has gone toward in recent years, delegations that visit from our sister cities to be able to help cover some of their costs, just being being a good host.
Jan Paynter: Sure.
Dave Norris: But, for instance, when we went to Winneba in 2009, the city of Charlottesville didnít put a dime into that, that was 100 percent money that was raised from the community. Some individuals paid out of pocket who went on that trip, we had fundraisers in the community, actually the Dave Matthews Band chipped in a significant amount of money to support the cost of that trip.
Jan Paynter: Oh, theyíre so involved [inaudible].
Dave Norris: Oh theyíre wonderful.
Jan Paynter: Itís remarkable, yeah.
Dave Norris: But when we have youth groups that go back and forth, for instance, almost every year a group from Charlottesville, a group of young people go and participate in a soccer tournament in Poggio A Caiano, itís an exchange, soccer exchange, itís great, because, you know, in other parts of the world, well itís ďfootballĒ there, they just love football.
Jan Paynter: And sports is the great equalizer.
Dave Norris: Sports is a great equalizer.
Jan Paynter: Yeah.
Dave Norris: And so they raise money for that trip all, again, all from the community. Most of the money that funds the trips in the exchanges comes from the community.
Jan Paynter: Itís good to know because as you know, thereís been some criticism about awhile back about some funding, and things like that happen Ö
Dave Norris: Mhmm.
Jan Paynter: Ö I think.
Dave Norris: Well, I think if youíre a taxpayer and youíre looking at priorities, and you see the city cutting funding for schools, for instance, or, or whatever, not that weíve had to do that here, but in Albemarle County, for instance, theyíve cut money for schooling, you see local governments having to make really tough choices then some people will ask the question, Well, then why are we putting any money into the sister city program? I happen to believe that in the grand scheme of things itís a tiny amount of money we put into the program, the sister city program, but I believe it pays great rewards, particularly for those members of our community who do have a chance to either to travel abroad or interact with people when they travel here. I really do think itís enriching to our community.
Jan Paynter: Yeah, I know that recently there was a French-American gospel exchange Ö
Dave Norris: Right, right.
Jan Paynter: Ö which was tremendously successful Ö
Dave Norris: Right, absolutely.
Jan Paynter: Ö which a great friend of sister cities, Louisa Dixon Ö
Dave Norris: Mhmm, yeah.
Jan Paynter: Ö help organize and manage, and so, that was a tremendous success Ö
Dave Norris: It was, it was.
Jan Paynter: Ö on both sides of the Atlantic.
Dave Norris: And thatís one where there wasnít a dime of city money that went into that one, so thereís, the little money we do put in tends to leverage a lot more money from the community, from private sector Ö
Jan Paynter: Yeah, I think that the main complaints I think people sometimes hear is that itís perhaps a bit elitist or thereís a finite number of people involved in it, and from what you can see, that is not the case?
Dave Norris: Well, I think itís a good, itís a good point because if a sister city relationship is only about elected officials and community leaders having the opportunity to travel or interact with people from other countries then I donít think itís a success. I think, I think successful, the successful sister city relationships are those in which everyday citizens have a chance to travel or interact with folks from other countries, and I can give you numerous, numerous examples of how thatís happened here in Charlottesville.
Jan Paynter: What kind of business opportunities come about as a result of this involvement?
Dave Norris: Well Iíd say thatís one area which we havenít really, we havenít seen a lot of movement yet in our sister city program is open the door to business exchanges and trade. I recently had a meeting where I was talking to folks about, you know, I wondered, we were wondering if, if there might be an opportunity to either work with one of the existing retail merchants in the city or maybe set up a new enterprise that offers goods, retail goods, from our various sister cities. We could import them and then sell them here because there are some beautiful, you know, art work, clothing, jewelry, you name it, products that are made in, in Ghana, France, Italy, Bulgaria. I could see that having some potential, but Iíd say right now itís pretty limited. I was actually excited to hear this morning, I found out this morning that at the Darden School in a couple weeks, or maybe this week, theyíll be having a forum about business in Africa, and so Iím hoping to be able to get over there to be able to participate in that to learn about how we can use this sister city program to encourage business relationships in our new sister city.
Jan Paynter: I know people would be interested in that. Areas of youth mentoring in education, tell us a little about that.
Dave Norris: Well weíve had students from our sister cities come and study here in Charlottesville, and thatís been great, itís been not a lot, there havenít been a lot of students so far. As Iíve said, weíve had youth groups go over from Charlottesville to visit our sister cities, whether to play soccer, the youth orchestra is going over, the Charlottesville Youth Orchestra is going next, this summer to Poggio A Caiano to perform there. In Winneba, Winneba has one of the best youth choirs in the world, and one of our goals is to try to see if we canít get that youth choir to come and perform in Charlottesville.
Jan Paynter: I know they have a thriving music scene there Ö
Dave Norris: Oh, sure.
Jan Paynter: Ö thatís quite remarkable.
Dave Norris: One of the projects that weíre looking at doing in Winneba is helping Winneba to build their first public library, they donít have any libraries. You know Ö
Jan Paynter: Wow.
Dave Norris: Ö and Charlottesville is such a book-friendly town. This is a project that we chose because we know that, we feel like itís something that people in Charlottesville can really get behind, the idea of helping this community to build their first library Ö
Jan Paynter: Ah, thatís a tremendous idea.
Dave Norris: Ö to equip it with books, with donated books. Itís still in the early stages, but one of the aspects of that, it wonít just be a library but also have a computer center, computer lab there, and actually the associate, the assistant director of Computers for Kids, which is a youth mentoring program here in Charlottesville, just spent three weeks in Winneba, just got back yesterday I think, and was exploring the idea of creating youth-to-youth, student-to-student networks, using the Internet and basically having students from both of our communities connect with each other, relate with each other, and itís very exciting.
Jan Paynter: How about issues of water? Because water is, we know is going to be one of the great issues of our, of the twentieth, 2011 and beyond. So have you gotten some ideas, in the area, weíre in the midst of dam versus dredging kind of controversy between the county and the city.
Dave Norris: One thing that Europe is, Europe is far ahead of us, and Besancon especially, which, Besancon, the city in France, really prides itself on its, on being really innovative with green design, green development, environmentally friendly construction, which includes a real emphasis on water conservation and energy conservation in addition to many other aspects, so thereís certainly a lot that we can learn from our sister city there about how to get smarter about water conservation, water efficiency. In Ghana, itís a totally separate set of issues relating to sanitation, where thereís still, you know, thereís large parts of that country that donít have indoor plumbing, that donít have access to clean, safe water, and we have wonderful resources here in the city and at the University of Virginia where we can help places like Winneba to develop their water infrastructure, which I think is a pretty neat opportunity.
Jan Paynter: This is an unfairly reductive question, I know, but if you looked at each of the four sister cities and you could pick one thing from each of them that you have found the most profound in terms of learning, itíd be interesting to hear.
Dave Norris: Iíll speak about, well Besancon I havenít been to yet, but people from Charlottesville whoíve been there always speak about how innovative and committed they are to environmental sustainability, and in fact there was a student from Charlottesville, a college student, who went to visit Besancon last year and wrote a thesis paper about this very topic, about how Besancon is incorporating environmental sustainability in all of its operations and how we might, we might adopt some of those same practices here, so thatís one from Besancon. From Winneba, far and above, Iíve traveled to a lot of places in my life to 30-some-odd countries and 49 states, Iíve never been anywhere in my life where I felt safer, walking around the city at all hours of the night, which I did when I was in Winneba, there is such a, they donít have a culture of stranger-on-stranger violence there, they have such a strong ethic of hospitality, they greet everybody as ďfriend,Ē when you meet somebody one of the first things they ask you is, ďHowís your family?Ē You know Ö
Jan Paynter: Thatís remarkable.
Dave Norris: Ö itís just such a very warm, generous people, and I think we could learn a lot. I actually felt safer walking around Winneba at night than I do walking around Charlottesville at night, and I feel pretty safe walking around Charlottesville, donít get me wrong, but that to me was a real profound, eye-opening experience. Poggio, Poggio is a city, an old city, as many European cities are, and they do a really good job of historic preservation, which I think we have that ethic here in Charlottesville, but I feel like we could do even more in that regard. Iím not as familiar with Pleven. Pleven is a sister city that really hasnít seen much activity in recent years. If we had the same criteria now for sister cities, in other words, in showing that thereís broad community support to sustain it, opportunities for all kinds of exchanges then we probably wouldnít have chosen Pleven now, with the process we have now. So I canít really say much about Pleven, but certainly the other three thereís a lot we can learn.
Jan Paynter: How does the city plan to increase awareness about sister city projects and increase funding as well?
Dave Norris: One of the things is we are building a better sister city webpage to be able to tell the story of each of these partnerships that will be part of our cityís website, and then each of the individual sister cities has volunteers that are involved in nurturing those relationships and, for instance, with the Winneba sister city partnership, weíre creating, weíre in the process right now of creating a website just for that that will be linked to the Charlottesville sister city website, which is going to have a lot of information Ö
Jan Paynter: Oh, thatís great.
Dave Norris: Ö and, you know, and just I think just using the media from when we have visitors from abroad. When the folks from Winneba came here this past year, we had a lot of media attention, and they were very visible in the community for a good 10 days, which was nice.
Jan Paynter: Ah, thatís terrific. Um, letís see if we have a little bit of time here. Um, do you wanna tell us a little, your favorite Winneba story? Because I promised at the beginning, Iím interested.
Dave Norris: Thereís so many stories. We went in 2009, May of 2009, in the first week of May, in the first week of May, the first Saturday of May in Winneba every year is their biggest annual festival, itís called the Aboakyer Festival. I often liken it to Mardi Gras here in this country. Itís a big festival, they have parades, they have music, they have dancing, um, they have all kinds of rituals, and people come from all over Ghana to Winneba for this weekend for this Aboakyer Festival. Um, thatís, so weíre hoping to go back this year for the Aboakyer Festival as well. Um, just being there amidst all this festive chaos (laughing) Ö
Jan Paynter: (Laughing) ďChaos,Ē I like that.
Dave Norris: Ö it was very fun, but they just really rolled out the welcome mat. When we came into town, thereís this huge banner over the main square in Winneba that says ďWelcome Charlottesville, Winneba Loves YouĒ Ö
Jan Paynter: Aw, thatís wonderful.
Dave Norris: Ö they just, again, thereís just such a strong culture of hospitality there, I just can just tell you so many stories.
Jan Paynter: Dave, I want to thank you for coming and speaking with us today about this very fascinating topic, and I hope people will get involved. Our cityís very informative website recounts the history of Charlottesvilleís earliest experience with sister city partnering, as Dave was saying at the beginning of the program, Poggio A Caiano, and as he mentioned also, the Italian Filippo Mazzei forged a friendship with Franklin and Thomas Adams while he was doing business in London. And at their suggestion, he relocated to Virginia in order to increase his business and received then an introduction by Adams to Jefferson. The site quotes, Jefferson then shared views about democratic principles and that Mazzei introduced Jefferson and Charlottesville to Italian grapevines. I can think of no more fitting metaphor for the exciting possibilities of interrelationships and learning between partner cities. We share a common root system, why not come to the table and share the harvest. My thanks again to Mayor Dave Norris for his informative discussion. Thank you at home for joining in our conversation. If you would like to find out more about Charlottesville sister city partnerships, you can consult Sister Cities International at www.sister-cities.org, the city of Charlottesville website as Dave is discussing, as well as our website at PoliticsMatters.org. We are very interested in hearing from you with questions, concerns, and ideas for upcoming programs. You can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We are Tuesday and Saturday at 8 p.m. Thank you again, and until next time, Iím Jan Paynter, and this is Politics Matters.