Dec 7, 2023 - Business

What New Orleans gets out of sister city agreements

Photo shows Mayor Cantrell and other dignitaries in Switzerland

Mayor LaToya Cantrell, center, signed a sister city agreement in 2022 with Ascona, Switzerland. Photo: Courtesy of City of New Orleans

New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell has made sister city agreements a priority during her time in office, a move her administration says helps with economic development and international diplomacy.

Why it matters: The potential benefits from sister city agreements are being overshadowed by criticism about the mayor's travel schedule.

Driving the news: New Orleans had more than a dozen city sister agreements when Cantrell took office in May 2018, but only three were active, according to Rosine Pema Sanga, the city's director of international relations.

  • Cantrell has signed or renewed several while in office, including ones in Switzerland, France and Haiti.

What she's saying: "Culture is economy, and culture is the fabric of the city of New Orleans," Cantrell told WBOK last year about why she focuses on the agreements.

  • "We're an international city. It requires us building relationships in order to strengthen the opportunities for our cultural community. That has always been a priority for me as mayor."

Yes, but: Travel expenses have been a source of contention with the City Council. Members last year passed an ordinance aimed at capping non-essential travel expenses for conferences and sister city agreements.

Meanwhile, Cantrell faces ethics charges from the Louisiana Board of Ethics, which says she improperly billed the city for about $29,000 in flight upgrades for city trips, including a sister city trip to France.

The big picture: Sister city agreements are a common practice in the U.S. and are encouraged by the State Department, according to Kerri Carter, the director of operations at Sister Cities International, a nonprofit founded in 1956 by former President Dwight Eisenhower.

  • The vision was to provide a way for U.S. cities to create formal partnerships with foreign cities and exchange information and ideas in the aftermath of World War II, the organization says.
  • It's also common for the U.S. mayor to fly to the international destination and sign the agreement in person, Carter said.

Zoom in: Pema Sanga handles the sister city agreements for New Orleans and tells Axios that other destinations are interested in the city's jazz culture and emergency preparedness experience.

  • Several of the city's 28 sister city agreements are managed through partnerships with schools and volunteer organizations. Those groups help with fundraising for the trips, she says, and keep the relationships strong.

Success stories: Economic development projects are a goal of the agreements, but they take longer to come to fruition, Pema Sanga tells Axios.

  • The city has been focusing on building relationships, learning from partner cities and doing cultural exchanges through visits with students and culture bearers.
  • For example, last year, 60 culture bearers and Roots of Music students performed at Jazz Ascona in Switzerland. Expenses were paid through fundraising, scholarships and the sister city, Pema Sanga says.
  • "We take New Orleans to them. It's a little taste and now they want to come," she tells Axios.

What's happening: New Orleans has sister city agreements with 28 locations. Of those, 13 are active, and six more are in the process of reconnecting, Pema Sanga says.

This is the list from City Hall as of Monday.

Active agreements

  • Antibes Juan-les-Pins, France.
  • Ascona, Switzerland.
  • Cap Haitian, Haiti.
  • Cape Coast, Ghana.
  • Havana, Cuba.
  • Innsbruck, Austria.
  • Jeonju, South Korea.
  • Kumasi, Ghana.
  • Matsue, Japan.
  • Mérida, Yucatán, México.
  • Orléans, France.
  • Rio de Janeiro, Brasil.
  • Tainan, Taiwan.

Dormant but working to re-activate

  • Durban, South Africa.
  • Holdfast Bay Australia.
  • Pointe-Noire, Republic of the Congo.
  • Querétaro, Mexico.
  • Tegucigalpa, Honduras.
  • Liverpool, U.K.

Dormant and no contact made yet

  • Isola del Liri, Italy.
  • San Miguel de Tucumán, Argentina.
  • Florence, Italy.
  • Rotterdam, Netherlands.
  • Batumi, Republic of Georgia.
  • Klaipeda, Lithuania.
  • Rosh Haayin, Israel.

Dormant and sister city is not interested in reconnecting

  • Caracas, Venezuela.
  • Maracaibo, Venezuela.

The benefit: Officials sign sister city agreements for all sorts of reasons, Carter says. These are some of the reasons the mayor has given for New Orleans' recent sister cities.

  • Ascona, Switzerland: "Our cities share the distinction of being among their respective continents' oldest cities. New Orleans also shares with our sister city a deep appreciation and respect for jazz."
  • Antibes Juan-les-Pins, France: "Share knowledge and ideas on topics such as climate change, economic development, and educational and cultural programs"
  • Cap Haitien, Haiti: "Our population comprised of an exodus of free people of color, French colonists & slaves from St. Domingue/Haiti upon defeat of the French rule, resulting in the Louisiana Purchase. New Orleans is Haiti's first Diaspora."

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