Kids in the Hall

By Andy Balaskovitz
An apparently outdated Sister Cities sign at the Lansing city limits. Andy Balaskovitz/City Pulse

St. Petersburg resolution taken off agenda

Monday, July 29 — A resolution condemning discrimination against LGBT advocates and their allies in St. Petersburg, Russia — a Lansing Sister City — was pulled from tonight’s City Council agenda because the two may not be sister cities at all.

Information provided by the Bernero Administration at tonight’s meeting suggests that the relationship has been defunct for “a number of years” and in its most recent directory, Sister Cities International does not recognize Lansing and St. Petersburg as partners in the program.

“New evidence strongly suggests the Sister Cities Commission already severed ties with St. Petersburg,” Chief of Staff Randy Hannan told the Council tonight. “It notified Sister Cities International several years ago that Lansing no longer has a relationship with St. Petersburg.”

This map shows Lansing’s active sister cities are Akuapem South District, Ghana; Guadalajara, Mexico; Otsu, Japan; Saltillo, Mexico; Sanming, China; Asan, South Korea; and Nsawam, Ghana. (An apparently outdated city limit sign by my apartment says St. Petersburg is a sister city. It also doesn’t include Asan or Nsawam.)

As Hannan pointed out, and as Sister Cities International shows, St. Petersburg is only partners in the program with Los Angeles and St. Petersburg, Fla.

First Ward Councilwoman Jody Washington, who brought the issue before the Council a few weeks ago, was dismayed that the administration didn’t share with her information suggesting the two cities aren’t partners. Last week, Washington said she’d work with the administration to condemn the discrimination after the two sides initially disagreed on how to deal with it.

After working with Mayor Bernero on a strategy for dealing with the human rights violations diplomatically, “Now I’m hearing that the relationship is severed, so what difference does it make? I’m confused as to where the hell this really is,” Washington said. “You would think someone would get a hold of me with this surprise announcement you gave to us.”

Hannan said some information “came to light as recently as this afternoon … but we’re here with an issue you brought to Council without any heads up,” he countered.

Washington said she “never intended to do anything to embarrass the mayor” by bringing it before Council. “This is the problem with working with you, Randy: We never hear anything until the last minute. I’m sorry if you somehow feel I offended you. This needs to stop so we can work together, move forward. I don’t want this constant rift with the mayor. … Frankly, I don’t appreciate your attitude.”

The draft resolution before the Council asks the Sister Cities Commission to call on its counterpart in St. Petersburg to “reject its discriminatory laws and take decisive action to protect LGBT and allied citizens from violence, harassment and discrimination” within 90 days of the resolution passing. If that doesn’t happen, the non-binding resolution asks the commission to begin severing the “formal ties.” It also requests the Human Relations and Community Service Advisory Board to “prepare a report summarizing current human rights issues and challenges in each of Lansing’s sister cities” and submit it to the Council within 180 days after the resolution passes.

Hannan said while Bernero is "appalled" by the treatment of LGBT advocates and their allies in St. Petersburg, the mayor still wants to "pursue a policy of constructive engagement."

"Mayor Bernero strongly believes in sending a very clear message to St. Petersburg," Hannan said.