Purcellville Mayor’s Guyanese Sister City Idea Divides Council

Purcellville Mayor Kwasi Fraser’s drive to pair Loudoun’s second-largest town with the second-largest city in Guyana—his home country—has been met with skepticism among his Town Council colleagues.

Fraser last week read a proclamation that would establish a Sister City partnership between the 10,000-resident Town of Purcellville with the 44,000-resident City of Linden, Guyana, located in northeast South America. Fraser said that partnership would take the form of a working relationship between he and Linden Mayor Waneka Arrindell and would allow the localities to collaborate on comprehensive and infrastructure planning, education, athletics, makerspace community-based technical training framework, trade and ecotourism, arts and music and agriculture.

Fraser said the idea for the initiative arose when he and former Virginia Senator Dick Black visited the Guyanese Embassy in November. Fraser said it was suggested that he give back to his native country.

“I’m not asking for permission, I’m asking for support,” Fraser told the Town Council, later emphasizing that Guyana needs Purcellville’s help.

When Fraser finished reading the proclamation, a few councilmen were quick to express hesitancy to support the partnership.

Councilman Ted Greenly said he was concerned about the many “me’s” and “I’s” Fraser asserted in the proclamation. “I have a little bit of an issue here when you’re telling us you’re not asking for permission,” he said.

Greenly said that, while he liked the idea of a Sister City initiative, now was not the time to implement one because the town should focus on its existing problems, like finding ways to bolster the shrinking utility funds.

“It’s not a giveback for Guyana, it’s what’s best for the two cities,” Greenly said. “I do feel like it’s a little rushed and I’m not seeing the value for us.”

Councilman Joel Grewe also was taken aback by Fraser’s proclamation, noting that Linden is an industrial town—something Purcellville is not.

“I’m not seeing the value for Purcellville here,” he said. “I don’t see the mutual benefit.”

Fraser said that while Guyana is one of the poorest nations in the world, he said it features the fastest growing economy with a Gross Domestic Product that could exceed that of China this year.

He later clarified that he meant to say Guyana’s GDP growth rate could exceed China’s this year and referenced a November 2019 Bloomberg article stating that Guyana’s GDP would increase by 86 percent in 2020—14 times China’s expected growth rate this year.

According to the World Bank, Guyana had a 2018 GDP of $3.9 billion; China had a GDP of $13.6 trillion, second only to the United States and more than twice as large as all of Latin America and the Caribbean.

Grewe said he was concerned about Fraser’s proclamation because the initiative theoretically formalizes an international partnership without a Town Council vote.

But Fraser said Grewe and Greenly were misinterpreting the initiative. He said the partnership would be between two individuals, not two towns.

“The relationship is between the mayor of Linden and the mayor of Purcellville,” he said. “It’s mayor to mayor.”

Councilman Nedim Ogelmen criticized Greenly and Grewe for making assumptions about the initiative without backing their stances up with data. He said the town should look further into the idea.

Councilman Ryan Cool was the only council member to openly support the initiative.

“Thank you for bringing them to us, bringing your home country to us,” he told Fraser. “I think there’s a lot more benefits than costs.”

Councilman Chris Bledsoe said he wanted to hear more about the initiative before making a decision on whether or not to support it.

Vice Mayor Tip Stinnette asked if the Sister City relationship would continue when Fraser leaves the office of mayor. Fraser said it would not.

That means that if the partnership were to be implemented and if Fraser does not run for re-election this May, or is not re-elected, the partnership with Linden would dissolve on July 1, when a new mayor takes office.

The Town Council is expected to discuss the Sister City initiative more at a later meeting.

The only Loudoun town to boast a Sister City is Round Hill, which is paired with Velence, Hungary—a town, like Round Hill, that features outdoor recreation options via Lake Velence.

While the Town of Leesburg—the largest town in Virginia—does not have a formal Sister City partnership, it does have an ongoing relationship with the City of Samcheok, South Korea, which the Town Council highlighted in a June 2019 proclamation.

Mayor Kelly Burk noted that Leesburg resident Eung Gil Choi frequently brings Koreans to Leesburg to put on events, like an annual Taekwondo tournament. Burk said the Town Council and staff looked into a formal initiative once but decided against it because of the associated high costs.

The county government has several Sister City relationships—with New Taipei, Taiwan; Shunyi District, China; and Goyang City, South Korea. It also has a Sister County/City relationship with the Karsiyaka Municipality in Izmir Province, Turkey; a Friendship City partnership with Gangneung City, South Korea; and a general partnership with the German County of Main-Taunus-Kreis.

The Sister City program is organized by Sister Cities International. It was initiated at U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s 1956 White House Conference on Citizen Diplomacy, in which Eisenhower envisioned an organization that could act as a hub of peace and prosperity by creating bonds between people from different cities across the world.

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The 56-square-mile City of Linden, Guyana.
The 3.42-square-mile Town of Purcellville.

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