Despite objections from some board members, the Columbia Association board Thursday voted to spend approximately $2,500 in airfare for four CA representatives to attend a two-day event hosted by CA's French sister city, Cergy-Pontoise, next month.
The French city has invited up to four CA representatives to attend the September "Twinning Celebration," which celebrates its sister city relationships with official meetings, cultural activities and sightseeing tours. Cergy-Pontoise 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 CA cover all of it. At the last Twinning Celebration a decade ago, CA paid for the airfare of two representatives.
At Thursday's meeting, the board passed two resolutions regarding trips to sister cities. The first was a general policy resolution that states CA will fund 50 percent of airfare for trips to sister cities. It was passed by a 6-3 vote, with Town Center representative Suzanne Waller abstaining.
The second suggests that the four representatives sent to Cergy-Pontoise consist of the following: one CA board member, one CA staff member, one CA International and Multicultural Advisory Committee member, and one additional person to be selected by CA President Phil Nelson.
It was recommended to Nelson that the fourth person be a member of the advisory committee.
Board discussion swirled around the first resolution, as members discussed whether the two-day event qualifies as official CA business. While some board members interpret it is a leadership conference, others argued it is more of a social event.
Hickory Ridge representative Gregg Schwind said that if CA is going to send representatives, they should pay for it.
"The issue for me is, is it official CA business? Is the association benefiting from sending representatives?" Schwind said. "If that's the case, CA ought to be paying all of it."
Waller, who is considered the most likely board member to make the trip and abstained from voting on all sister-city legislation, said the event is official CA business.
"This is not a celebration and a party," Waller said. "This is a meeting about sister city issues, how we all relate to one another, and learning about what our sister cities do. ... This is a professional conference."
But Oakland Mills representative Alex Hekimian, who voted against the resolution, disagreed
"I see this more as a social thing, more of a celebration. In fact, they call it a celebration, they don't call it a conference," Hekimian said. "My preference is whoever goes should pay their own airfare."
Long Reach representative Ed Coleman, who also voted against, said he would not support funding airfare with lien-payer money.
"I wish we had a separate way to fund these that was not taken out of lien money," Coleman said. "The money that we have should benefit everybody."
Kings Contrivance representative and board Chairwoman Shari Zaret said her village board didn't understand why the CA board was "nickel and diming" the trip.
River Hill representative Michael Cornell agreed, and attempted to amend the motion to have CA fully fund airfare.
"If we are going to do this stuff, let's do it," Cornell said. "If we are going to participate in the international community, we are going to have to go out into the international community to do that."
The amendment failed by a vote of 4 to 5, with Waller abstaining.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun