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updated: 6/27/2013 2:25 PM

Elgin councilmen fail to stop spending for sister city visit

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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 received a memo last week with a request to set aside about $3,800 to cover lodging and a few meals for the delegation.

However, 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. 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.

"We're missing an opportunity to have a very positive event from a cultural standpoint, and showcasing Elgin as a cultural sophisticated city that is able to have a relationship with Chile," Councilwoman Anna Moeller said.

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

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