Westminster elected officials put their stamp of approval on a sister-city relationship with the Estonian city of Paide last night by signing on to a plan that would promote cross-cultural exchanges between business representatives, arts groups, students and municipal employees.
At last night's Common Council meeting, Westminster Mayor Kevin E. Dayhoff and Paide Mayor Tonis Koiv endorsed an agreement that outlines several swaps between the two cities. The plans include sending manufacturing and high-tech executives from Westminster to Paide to review investment opportunities, and exchanging municipal employees to generate ways to solve each city's problems. Two Estonian students a year would attend McDaniel College and Carroll Community College.
Both cities will establish a network of contacts for nonprofit organizations, businesses and cultural groups. To show its sibling solidarity, Westminster has pledged $1,000 toward the development of a skate park in Paide similar to one in the Carroll County seat.
"If you don't have a plan it's hard to get past the feel-good stuff to the real stuff," said Thomas B. Beyard, Westminster's director of planning and public works. He will act as the local contact for the partnership.
In June, Beyard and Ronald J. Schroers, Westminster's administrator of recreation and activities, visited Estonia to narrow the search for a sister city. There, Estonian officials took them on a tour of events and business presentations throughout the country.
Westminster is returning that hospitality with a similarly packed itinerary that began with the arrival of the Estonian group during the weekend. Koiv, council Chairman Andres Jalak and their Maryland National Guard escorts have toured Camden Yards and other Baltimore attractions and plan to visit Westminster's restaurants, businesses, schools and Fallfest activities throughout the week.
"Our welcome has been very warm so far," said Koiv, describing his tour of the Estonian embassy in Washington and his visit to the Maryland Wine Festival during the weekend in Westminster. "We're glad our plans with Westminster will be reality, and not just words on paper. Both sides have the opportunity to be winners."
Westminster and Paide are the ninth pair of sister cities formed between Maryland and Estonian municipalities. Other matches include capitals Annapolis and Tallinn, Frostburg and Viljandi and Salisbury with Tartu. The National Guard has been at the forefront in establishing and supporting these partnerships, especially in sponsoring trips to either country, said Lt. Col. Larry Betz, partner city coordinator.
The sister-city arrangements evolved from a military program established in Estonia by the Maryland National Guard in 1993, said Betz, who made his sixth trip to the country escorting Westminster's representatives during the summer. He said that Maryland's Estonian population - about 1,000 - made it a natural companion for the initiative, which expanded into business and cultural interests in 1999.Paide is a 711-year-old town in the nation's heartland with a population of about 10,000. Beyard said it reminded him of Westminster in its small town tranquillity.
Beyard said that he was impressed by the efficiency of Paide's local government.