With a desire to expand their understanding of culture and government, the North Bend City Council has approved a resolution to pursue a professional and cultural exchange program with the town of Mestia in the eastern European country of Georgia.
The Asian Development Bank (ADB), an international development bank that supports developing countries through grants and loans, has given a grant to Georgia to facilitate growth in rural areas of the country.
In his presentation to the council on Feb. 5, community and economic development senior planner Jesse Reynolds said that since Georgia seceded from the USSR, rural areas have seen much of their population move to the capital. The grant received from the ADB is set to help bolster rural areas through programs such as cultural and professional exchanges with cities like North Bend.
There is no monetary cost to the city itself to participate, but other costs in staff time would be a factor, city administrator Londi Lindell said.
According to Reynolds, the exchange would have three people from Mestia come to the city of North Bend and as many as six people from North Bend would go to Mestia. The exchange’s goal would be to help both parties develop technical skills and form ideas of how to emphasize each city’s strengths.
“It’s kinda like sister cities, but different in that is is focused on capacity building instead of just cultural,” he said.
Mestia, Reynolds said, was similar to North Bend as it has seen a rapid rise in outdoor recreation, while also maintaining its culture as a rural town.
Councilmember Chris Garcia was skeptical of the benefit that could be derived from the program and was concerned about spending city staff time away from the city itself. Garcia was also critical of comments made regarding the use of vacation time to send staff as part of the exchange.
“We are always told how tight we are on staff time, and to send staff over there potentially and to ask them to take it as vacation would rub me the wrong way too,” he said.
Other councilmembers were supportive of the resolution but did have their own concerns. Councilmember Martin Volken liked the idea but was unsure that Mestia would be the best city in terms of its likeness to North Bend and said that Mestia would get a lot more out of the program than they would.
Councilmember and Mayor Pro-Tem Trevor Kostanich suggested that the city deosn’t have to commit a group of staff to go, but representatives could include people from the downtown foundation or visitor center volunteers. The individuals participating do not need to be chosen immediately so there would be time once approved to determine the most effective people to participate.
An additional benefit, Councilmember Brenden Elwood said, would be enrichment opportunities for the staff that does go. He suggested that programs that offer enrichment above salaries and bonus could be a way to retain staff and attract new hires.
The resolution was passed with a 4-2 vote with councilmembers Garcia and Alan Gothelf dissenting.