The Columbia Association board is divided over whether to pay thousands of dollars in airfare for CA representatives to attend a celebration hosted by CA's French sister city, Cergy-Pontoise.

The French city has invited up to four CA representative to attend the September "Twinning Celebration," a two-day event that celebrates its sister city relationships. The city has agreed to pay for the participants transportation and two days of lodging, but not airfare.

CA staff estimates that the cost of airfare would be $1,250 per person on Air France, and recommended that the board authorize funding the full cost of airfare.

At the last Twinning Celebration a decade ago, CA paid for the airfare of two representatives. But this year, CA board members are considering not covering the airfare, which could mean abstaining from the trip entirely.


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At a CA meeting last week, Oakland Mills representative Alex Hekimian said paying for CA employees to go abroad sends the wrong message.

"I'm thinking of the kids that go on this exchange program; they pay their airfare," he said. "If the kids pay their airfare, I personally think whoever we send ought to pay for their own airfare."

Harper's Choice representative Cynthia Coyle said that the trip differs from regular exchanges.

"I see this as an investment in leadership," Coyle said. "I think it is our job to fund this."

Dorsey's Search representative Tom Coale, who admitted he has gone back and forth on the issue, said he will never vote to fully subsidize the airfare to France. "I can't watch residents come to this podium and ask for things after voting for that," he said.

However, Coale said CA should participate in the celebration and introduced the possibility of partially funding airfare for two or more members.

Hickory Ridge representative Gregg Schwind agreed that one representative is not enough, but disagreed with paying only part of the cost.

"This is official Columbia business," Schwind said. "I don't know why we don't pay this and let these people go."

As members of the CA board discussed the possibility of abstaining from the trip, River Hill representative Michael Cornell spoke about the importance of attending.

"In the global community, there is a certain cynicism toward this country that we are xenophobic, we are egocentric, we don't want to be members of a greater community," Cornell said. "If we are (only) willing to participate when its convenient. ... I don't think that communicates or sends a very positive message. It's certainly not within the spirit of what these programs are trying to accomplish."

The board did not reach a decision on the issue.