International advisory panel is created

O'Malley signs order to boost city's image around the world


Mayor Martin O'Malley signed an executive order yesterday creating an advisory council on international affairs, hoping to raise the city's awareness abroad while injecting life into Baltimore's long-standing Sister Cities program.

The 13-member council, stocked with prominent business and community leaders, will meet every two months to formulate ideas and guide the city's international relations initiatives.

Topping the group's agenda will be reinvigorating Baltimore's partnerships with 11 sister cities around the world. Baltimore has developed relationships over the past 34 years with such cities as Gbarnga, Liberia; Kawasaki, Japan; Ely O'Carroll, Ireland; and Ashkelon, Israel - but many of the partnerships have fallen off over time.

Three years ago, city officials considering disbanding the Sister Cities program, but instead they chose to recommit to it and create the council, said Elizabeth Weiblen, director of the mayor's Office of International Affairs.

The council will also be charged with offering suggestions to help increase immigration to the city, as well as developing international activities for youth.

"We have to continue to promote Baltimore as a world-class city through trade, tourism and economic development," O'Malley said. "The opportunity for cultural enrichment is before us, and we have to take advantage of it. The Mayor's Advisory Council on International Affairs will help us to address many of the issues that allow us to put that best face of the city forward."

The announcement with City Council President Sheila Dixon came as part of an International Women's Day ceremony at Druid Hill Park.

Most of the members of the council - a group that includes Kenneth Hackett, president of Catholic Relief Services, and Gary Vikan, director of the Walters Art Museum - could not attend the ceremony.

But Art Abramson, executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council, attended and said the advisory council formalizes the city's commitment to international affairs.

"It raises it to a higher level than it was in the past," Abramson said. "It puts it on the radar screen."

Council members said they anticipate specific projects to be formalized in the coming months. Until then, Weiblen said she expects to strengthen some of the workings under Sister Cities, including a postcard reflections exchange between city schools and Rotterdam, the Netherlands.

"This is tremendous," Vikan said in a later interview. "I'm very eager to be part of what Baltimore is about. It's one of the 10 up-and-comers. With Baltimore coming up as it is now, the new Baltimore, we've got a tremendous connection to the world."

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