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Aleshire opposed to relationship between county and city in China

November 27, 2009|By HEATHER KEELS

An agreement signed Nov. 10 establishing a relationship between Washington County and a city in China did not have the full support of the Washington County Commissioners, according to Commissioner Kristin B. Aleshire.

Aleshire said he was opposed to the relationship because of China's communist government and said the matter should have been brought to the commissioners for a vote before the agreement was signed.

Commissioners President John F. Barr signed a document establishing the "friendship-city relationship" during a recent trip to China with Kaplan University officials.

Barr said the commissioners had discussed the agreement.

"The consensus was, if it didn't cost us a lot, this certainly wouldn't hurt anything, and I think the potential opportunity for the interaction and economic development is very unlimited," Barr said.

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The document Barr signed says Washington County and Jinhua City will "endeavor to formally establish friendly relations so as to promote common prosperity and development" and will strive for mutually beneficial "exchanges and co-operation in various forms in the fields of economy, trade, science and technology, culture, education, sports, health and personnel exchanges."

Aleshire said he questioned County Administrator Gregory B. Murray on when the county would vote on the agreement and Murray responded that the commissioners had already reached a consensus to support the agreement.

Murray told Aleshire in an e-mail that in the commissioners' discussion of the topic, Barr and Commissioner James F. Kercheval had supported the agreement and Commissioner William J. Wivell said he was supportive as long as the county didn't pay for travel to China.

Barr said he paid his own way on the trip.

Terry Baker didn't return a phone call Friday seeking his position on the matter.

Aleshire said he didn't think previous discussion was enough to give Barr the authority to sign an agreement.

"You would think there would be an official vote, an official recognition of that partnership being solidified," Aleshire said.

Aleshire said he planned to make a motion at a future commissioners meeting to bring the matter to the floor.

Aleshire said his concerns about China included its practices related to human rights, labor laws, copyright policies and environmental issues.

"We shouldn't lightly overlook drastic differences in philosophy, land, ideology and culture simply for the sake of economic development opportunities," he said.

Barr said he thought China was working on those issues and that capitalism is "probably one of the things I think we can help them with."

He said he was impressed by the genuineness and respect of the people he met on his trip.

Chris Motz, president of Kaplan University's Hagerstown Campus, who traveled with Barr to establish an agreement with a college in Jinhua, said he didn't see China's form of government as being relevant to the agreements.

"I think to me, in wrestling with that issue, to me, we're not partnering with the Chinese central government or the Communist Party; we're cooperating with our colleagues in a different country, and these folks are so genuine, and so caring," Motz said. "You just don't see those differences that we get all hung up on in terms of politics."

If anything, Motz said, the partnership will expose the Chinese students who visit Hagerstown to American culture and values.

"It's going to benefit those Chinese students that are going to be influenced by what they see and hear here, and go back and perhaps, eventually, change what that central government looks like," Motz said.

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