The West Valley City Council on Tuesday will decide who should serve on the community’s Sister City Committee — a group that advises the westside suburb on maintaining its friendship with a community in Nantou, Taiwan, and oversees student exchange programs.
West Valley City has fostered a relationship with Nantou since 2000, which was symbolized recently by a new Chinese Heritage Gate unveiled in September at a ceremony attended by local and Taiwanese officials.
West Valley City Mayor Mike Winder recently described the ornate gate as one-of-a-kind at the event at the Utah Cultural Celebration Center, 1355 W. 3100 South. The 48-foot-long structure was funded with $150,000 from West Valley City, $140,000 from private donors and the $10,000 from Lee Chao-Ching, the former mayor of Nantou.
The gate project became a point of contention for some. Angry donors have questioned whether their donations were mishandled by Terence Chen, chairman of the Chinese Heritage Foundation of Utah and of the Sister City Committee.
Councilman Don Christensen, who is a member of the Sister City Committee, said “donations, the [Chinese Heritage] gate — all of that is a result of the [work of the Sister City Committee].”
Angst from the gate controversy apparently has now spilled over into discussions over the make up of the Sister City Committee, with some concerned that not enough West Valley City residents are part of the organization. The committee is part of the Cultural Arts Board, which receives about $40,000 in public funding each year to disperse among a number of programs.
Currently, about half of the Sister City Committee members don’t live in West Valley City. The council on Tuesday will approve a new chair to lead the committee and vote on reappointing 13 committee members including Chen, who is a resident of Taylorsville.
Christensen has said he’s worried too many of the city committees aren’t getting the proper representation of West Valley City residents, including the Sister City Committee, where five of 13 member are from West Valley City.
“I would like West Valley residents serving on West Valley committees,” Christensen said Monday.
Discussion scheduled for Tuesday about the Sister City Committee’s representation isn’t the first time issues over whether West Valley residents are properly involved in cultural activities connected to the group have emerged. In June, the committee, led by Chen, sent seven students to Nantou as part of an student exchange program. Only one student was from West Valley City, which frustrated some West Valley parents who wanted their children sent on the trip.
“Instead of choosing to get the students from West Valley they chose to put the word out outside of West Valley,” said resident Leah Wright, who had two sons that applied to go to Taiwan, but their GPA was slightly below the 3.0 requirement with a 2.9 and 2.7.
Out of 13 applicants who applied for the exchange program that took place earlier this year, 11 were selected to be interviewed. The two not given an interview were Wright’s boys, who were the only West Valley City residents who applied. Other students on the trip were from cities in Davis and Salt Lake counties.
Winder told the committee he wanted West Valley kids on the trip, show city emails The Tribune obtained through an open records request.
“My personal opinion is that I would rather have someone with 2.7 GPA that lives in West Valley City than someone with a 3.5 GPA that lives in Draper, since [West Valley] is the city that has funded and nurtured the relationship [with Nantou],” Winder wrote in an email to committee members.
Ross Olsen, executive director of the Cultural Celebration Center, said the Wright boys simply didn’t meet grade requirements and weren’t selected.
Christensen said many West Valley residents couldn’t afford the trip, so they didn’t apply. In two to four years when the next exchange happens, Christensen said the city plans to arrange scholarships or sponsors to help raise money to give students another way to afford the trip.
Going forward, committee members said they plan to better recruit more West Valley students for cultural exchanges, using social media and other mediums instead of simply placing ads through the local school district.
The same goes for recruiting more West Valley residents to serve on city committees, including the Sister City Committee, said Christensen.
The city will try to “encourage our residents to serve in our city,” he said. “It would foster citizen participation.”
What is the sister city committee?
The Sister City Committee is created as an advisory body to West Valley City to establish and maintain Sister City relationships that provide economic, cultural, and educational benefits to West Valley City. Since 2000, the city has had a Sister City relationship with Nantou, Taiwan.
The committee serves as the liaison between West Valley City and Nantou and seeks out potential new Sister City relationships.
The Sister City Committee participates in the West Valley City Cultural Arts Board at the direction of the City Manager. On Tuesday, new members will be selected and/or reappointed.
Current Sister City Committee Members
Terrence Chen, Chair
Don Christensen, West Valley City Council Member
Enrique Sosa, Hispanic Neighborhood Services Specialist
Jean Pagles, CAB Administrator*