All not well with trip to Barbados

BARBADOS’ imminent signing of a new sister city charter with Wilmington has some sections of that North Carolina municipal fuming.

Wilmington councilwoman Laura Padgett and Don Bergstrom, chairman of the Sister City Commission, are scheduled to arrive in Barbados tonight for next Monday’s signing of an agreement where both locations will benefit from economic and cultural exchanges.

However, a government watchdog group called Citizens for a Sound Economy, has deemed the partnership between Bridgetown and Wilmington “a waste”, especially coming just weeks after city leaders there decided to cut property taxes, forcing budget cuts and lay-offs.

Wilmington city is spending more than US$1 500 to fly Padgett and Bergstrom after the initial US$10 000 budget proposed allowing four people to make the trip.

George Wrage, a representative of Citizens for a Sound Economy said: “They keep spending … spending like there’s no tomorrow., and guess who foots the bill! We do; the taxpayers!”

Responding to the criticisms via email yesterday, Padgett told the Barbados Advocate “some people find fault with anything that costs money if the money is public money, regardless of the benefits”.

She saw the new relationship with Barbados and the journey here as “an opportunity to recognise our historical connections as well as more recent connections as our residents have travelled there and your residents have come here”.

“Hopefully there will be more of that. I think we have an opportunity to share ideas with the City of Bridgetown, discuss common challenges and learn about each other’s culture. It is always valuable to enlarge one’s viewpoint,” according to the official.

“Wilmington is a coastal and river port city. Our port, which is extremely important to our economy and that of the state, is an international link to countries all over the world. We should be interested in knowing them,” she added.

Padgett felt the cost of the Barbados journey was relatively small and stressed the benefit was “at least equal to that and potentially much, much more in terms of opportunity and relationships that could be built”.

Aaron Saykin, the WECT television reporter who highlighted the Barbados charter concerns said it was unclear how strong opposition to the relationship with this island was within the Wilmington government. “I know there are some who are quietly opposed to the idea and I think that’s why the plans for the trip were scaled back,” he noted.

“That said, it seems to be a story that will disappear in a day or two. The city continues to promote the benefits of the partnership. The strongest opponents are the fiscal conservatives and government watchdog groups,” he added.

A group of English settlers from Barbados, led by John Vassal, established a settlement in Wilmington in 1664. Speightstown currently has a twinning arrangement with Charleston South Carolina, which also was settled by Englishmen from Barbados.

As a first stage of the relationship between Barbados and the North Carolina city, two professors and nearly two dozen students from U-N-C-Wilmington are scheduled spend a month here at their own expense to study the island’s health, transportation system and other issues.