Portrayal unfair to mayor, Sister Cities program | AspenTimes.com

Portrayal unfair to mayor, Sister Cities program

Dear Editor:

Please allow me to tell you the facts regarding Mayor Mick Ireland’s European visit and the mission of Aspen Sister Cities.

Aspen Sister Cities is a nonprofit, volunteer organization started in 1966. Aspen has six sister cities: Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany; Chamonix, France; Davos, Switzerland; Shimmukappu, Japan; Queenstown, New Zealand and Bariloche, Argentina. There are strict guidelines in becoming a sister city as mandated by the International Sister Cities Committee. All sister cities are under the umbrella of the city of Aspen government. In other words, Aspen Sister Cities program is an arm of the Aspen City government.

The idea of this program is to share ideas and cultures through youth and adult exchanges to promote world peace and make a difference in the world through multicultural communication. Thousands of Aspen students have participated over the years. The Sister Cities program sends and receives hundreds of kids on exchanges annually. I personally meet many of these kids and see how the Sister Cities Program has enriched their lives.

It is a travesty that a recent article about the mayor’s visit to our European cities didn’t highlight what we do (“Ireland submits European road trip bill,” Sept. 19, 2011, Aspen Daily News). We build relationships – people to people and government to government. Those relationships are fostered with every student that goes overseas and with kids who are hosted by Aspen and Snowmass families.

Mayor Mick Ireland was not the first elected official to visit our sister cities – mayors and councils have done this trip before – and this will not be the last time elected officials visit our sister cities. It’s their duty and protocol. The Sister Cities committee arranged the mayor’s trip. He traveled as our liaison to visit the cities we work with only via email all the time. Personal connections build this program.

A vacation? Try an eight- to 10-hour flight, eight-hour time difference, meeting with the mayor, council members, school officials and citizens in each town, starting around dawn and retiring at midnight for seven days. It’s exhausting, but necessary. You must be “on your game” at all times as an Aspen ambassador.

To call the Sister Cities Program a “sham” as in a recent letter to the editor is irresponsible and ignorant. Talk to the children, parents, teachers, Aspen Skiing Co., Challenge Aspen, doctors and most importantly the volunteers who have participated in this program, and you will hear a different story.

I personally invite the Aspen community to our sister cities meetings held the second Tuesday of every month at 5 p.m. You will see the joy our kids bring back from their visits to our sister cities.

Donald K. Sheeley

President, Aspen Sister Cities

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