The Madison-Rafah Sister City Project

Madison Alders Attack Sister Cities

Wisconsin State Journal :: FRONT :: A2, Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Rafah is not a city in El Salvador

Ald. Lauren Cnare doesn’t oppose buying milk for kids in Rafah on the Gaza Strip in Palestine. She just objects to tax money given to a Madison sister city in El Salvador being used that way.

Cnare sits on the Sister Cities Grant Review subcommittee, which during the grant review process found that the Arcatao, El Salvador sister city program gave some of its money to the controversial Rafah Sister City project — looking like an end run around the City Council, which in 2004 voted against making Rafah a sister city. (Opponents raised heated objections, saying it appeared to be taking sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.)

“It’s not that the kids don’t deserve milk or money, they do,” says Cnare. “While these are worthwhile causes, we as a city need to be good stewards of our money and make sure these programs are following the guidelines.” The Arcatao sister city group had not returned calls by press time.

ISTHMUS, MADISON.GOV, APRIL 21, 2006, Vol. 31, No. 16, Vikki Kratz

Sisterly spending

Ald. Zach Brandon thinks some Madison sister-city groups are misusing their city funds.

“There’s no oversight,” he complains, noting that the Madison-Vilnius (Lithuania) sister donated money to Hurricane Katrina relief last year. “It’s a worthy cause, but it’s not what they were given tax dollars for. It’s not their money to do whatever they want with.”

Daina Zemliauskas-Juozevicius of the Madison-Vilnius Sister City Committee says the group has always used its $500 in city funds appropriately, providing English books to Lithuanian libraries and supporting a local folk dancing troupe. She admits it gave $50 to the Red Cross during its Hurricane Katrina relief efforts. “They were allowing us to use a meeting room for our monthly board meetings. The donation was kind of a thank you.”

Brandon is unmoved, saying, “It’s less the dollar amount. It’s more the principle.” He also complains that the Arcatao, El Salvador sister has given money to the Rafah Sister City Project. The Madison Common Council refused to name Rafah in Palestine a sister city, in part due to allegations that it’s a haven for terrorists. “The sister-city program has deviated from the original intent,” says Brandon. “It’s become more political.”

But Barbara Alvarado of the El Salvador group says it never gave money to the Rafah program; she suspects Brandon misread its annual report. “We have done joint fund-raisers with Rafah,” she says. “We do not give money to them.”

Wisconsin State Journal :: OPINION :: A8, Wednesday, May 3, 2006

(Red text was deleted and blue text was added by the State Journal.)

No city money to Rafah project

Madison Ald. Lauren Cnare and the State Journal readers can rest easy. Contrary to Melanie Conklin’s April 19 column, the Arcatao, El Salvador sister city project DID NOT give any city money to the Rafah sister city project. Had Conklin been less hasty, she could have gotten the facts from the Arcatao or Rafah projects.

In spite of erroneous comments made by the Sister City Oversight Committee, Arcatao only reported co-sponsoring public events with other groups, including a Passover Seder with Madison-Rafah. Proceeds were split between humanitarian projects of the two groups. No city money was used.

The claim of an “end-run” around the City Council is ludicrous. We are completely self-supporting and have raised tens of thousands of dollars for humanitarian projects, thanks to hard work from our members and the backing of many good people in the Madison area.

We expect better from our elected officials, and the press. Conklin and The State Journal have smeared our reputation at a time of soaring hunger and poverty in Rafah, when maintaining the trust of our supporters is essential.

Conklin quotes Ald. Cnare as saying, “It’s not that the kids don’t deserve milk or money. They do.” We agree. We invite Ald. Cnare and others to contribute to relief for the people of Rafah. To help the people of Rafah with food and medicine, Send tax-deductible contributions payable to MRSCP and marked “Rafah relief” to:

    PO Box 55371
    Madison WI 53705

Money received through May 31 will be sent to Rafah via the Middle East Children’s Alliance for food and medicine. And it won’t cost the city of Madison a dime.

George Arida
Barbara Olson
Kathy Walsh
Members, Madison-Rafah Sister City Project

Additional Background, 12-May-06

According to the minutes of the SCOC Common Council Organizational Committee, Vilnius’ budget for 2006 includes the $500 basic city funding plus some additional (less than $500) discretional funding from the city. It’s total budget for 2006 is $3500, more than $2500 of which is not city money.

The Madison-Arcatao Sister City Project budget for 2006 is $16,000, of which about $1000 is city money. Their 2005 annual report states that the city money was spent on their newsletter and other outreach. No mention is made anywhere of giving or spending money, city or otherwise, for Rafah projects. In answer to a city question on activities (not funds), Arcatao said they had done joint projects with various groups, including the Madison-Rafah Sister City Project. Madison-Rafah was not the only group listed without official ties to the City of Madison, and it is not clear why it was singled out. The joint activities mentioned were self-funded and the proceeds were split between Arcatao and Rafah.

Ald. Lauren Cnare has laid the blame for any possible misunderstanding on the Arcatao annual report. According to Cnare, all three members of the Common Council’s Sister City Oversight Committee found Arcatao’s report “ambiguous,” but a careful reading would have shown that someone was jumping to conclusions.The answers were not ambiguous, and if more specifics were required, clarifications should have been sought. There was no mention of Madison-Rafah in the answers to questions on the use of city money. That is not ambiguous.

The minutes of the Oversight Committee did say that Arcatao gave money to Rafah. These minutes were recorded by Cnare, and the comment on the money transfer was attributed to Ald. Santiago Rosas, who reviewed the Arcatao annual report. But that statement was incorrect, and Ald. Zach Brandon should have checked further before making unwarrented accusations at the Board of Estimates meeting, which Cnare and Rosas did not attend.

Rosas has been helpful in discussing this issue, and is not pleased with the way this misinformation has been used. He was not surprised that Cnare and Brandon would make a fuss over it, stating that both Cnare and Brandon would like to scrap all sister city funding.

Ald. Paul Van Rooy, chair of the Oversight Committee, has offered to correct the minutes. Ald. Cnare, when contacted by Bill Lueders of Isthmus, said that mistakes may have been made.