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updated: 7/2/2013 11:16 PM

Move to stiff Elgin's sister city is defeated

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An effort by two Elgin councilmen to prevent the city from spending any money to host a delegation from its sister city in Chile didn't get any traction after a testy discussion Wednesday night.

Councilman John Prigge proposed that no money or staff time be spent on hosting an expected visit from about four people from Cauquenes, Chile, during the Fourth of July holiday. Councilman Terry Gavin seconded the motion, which failed 7-2.

Prigge said council members were asked last week to set aside about $3,800 to cover discounted lodging and a few meals for the delegation. The nonprofit organization Sister Cities Elgin & Cauquenes is still trying to find sponsors to cover the cost of the visit, City Manager Sean Stegall said.

Councilwoman Anna Moeller added that Elgin Fire Lt. Bob Bedard, who spearheaded the sister cities initiative, is also looking for host families for the Chileans. The Chilean delegation will pay for its own airfare.

The matter is just about "extending a courtesy" when "representatives from another city come to visit and believe they are wanted," Stegall said.

Councilman Rich Dunne went to Chile in early May on behalf of Mayor David Kaptain, who had been invited to attend a local celebration by the mayor of Cauquenes. Sister Cities paid for Dunne's airfare and visa costs. Dunne paid for his wife to join him in the trip.

"When we got down there, the host city would not allow us to pay for a bottle of water. The graciousness they offered us was phenomenal," Dunne said.

But Prigge argued that paying for the Chileans would "set a precedent."

"We're made to feel like if we don't do this, we're horrible people," he said.

Councilwoman Tish Powell pointed out the visit could yield economic opportunities for Elgin.

Cauquenes is "the Napa Valley of Chile" because it produces wines and olives, Kaptain said. Elgin could become a distribution center for some Chilean businesses, he said.

Moeller said the visit is an opportunity to showcase Elgin "as a cultural, sophisticated city that is able to have a relationship with Chile."

"We're missing an opportunity to have a very positive event from a cultural standpoint," she said.

Councilman John Steffen added, "The longer we spend on this, the more embarrassing it is."

Frank Lateano, who recently served as president of the Illinois Sister Cities Association, said some municipalities arrange for sister cities' delegations to stay with local host families, while others pay for lodging. Often, designated sister city nonprofits do the fundraising, he said. Delegations commonly pay for their own airfare, he added.

There are about 57 municipalities across the state that have one or more sister cities, Lateano said.

"Every situation is different. It all depends on the economics at the time or what they're trying to accomplish," he said, such as whether the purpose of the trip is to create economic partnerships. "In recent years the budgets here in Illinois and abroad have tightened up quite substantially."

Kathleen Tempesta, director of community services in Schaumburg, said delegations from the sister city in Germany have stayed with host families. Delegations from the sister city in Japan, on the other hand, paid for their own hotel stay, she said.

In Palatine, lodging for its French sister city's delegations and other expenses such as Chicago Bears game tickets were paid for by the nonprofit Sister Cities Association of Palatine, Village Clerk Marg Duer said. The village does not contribute money to the nonprofit, she said.

In Naperville, the city gives money every year to the Naperville Sister Cities Commission, which in turn has paid for hotels for visiting delegations from Slovakia and Mexico, commission member Bettye Wehrli said. This year, the village's contribution was "several thousands dollars," she said.

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