Tumwater might dissolve sister city relationship

ahobbs@theolympian.comMay 14, 2014 

Tumwater will decide this month whether to end its lone international sister city relationship because of human rights violations.

In 2007, local citizens formed the nonprofit Tumwater-Mubende Sister City Association to foster cultural connections between Tumwater and Mubende, a town with about 22,000 people in central Uganda.

However, city officials say the East African country has oppressive laws that clash with Tumwater’s views on human rights. Uganda recently passed an “Anti-Homosexuality Bill” with tougher criminal penalties for same-sex relations. Those who fail to report gay people also face punishment, and the law has led to a rise in attacks on gays, according to media reports. Uganda is among 37 African nations where homosexuality is illegal.

In addition, one of Tumwater’s biggest donations to impoverished Mubende was marred by violence. In 2011, a Poulsbo firefighter was ambushed by bandits in Uganda while delivering a surplus ambulance on Tumwater’s behalf.

The firefighter was the only association board member to have visited Uganda, according to the board. Likewise, city officials say communication between Tumwater and Mubende has dwindled to almost nothing in the past few years.

Mubende Mayor Zziwa Kizito last visited Tumwater in 2009. In an April email, the Mubende mayor asked Tumwater Mayor Pete Kmet to support a new primary school. In response, Kmet said Tumwater would likely dissolve the relationship.

Mubende is Tumwater’s only foreign sister city, but the relationship is not officially part of the Sister Cities International program. City administrator John Doan said he is unable to locate any official city documents or proclamations on the relationship. No city money has been spent on Mubende, Doan said.

In a letter this week to the Tumwater City Council, two association board members recommended suspending the sister city relationship, rather than dissolving it. The letter cites the need for “investigating the influence and accountability of our association.”

Doan presented a draft resolution Tuesday to the general government committee that addressed the relationship’s status. Three council members on the committee said they want to end the affiliation with Mubende, and possibly find a new sister city through a more official process. The full City Council is expected to consider the resolution Tuesday.

Council member Joan Cathey expressed frustration about the affiliation between Mubende and Tumwater, whose city code prohibits discrimination against sexual orientation.

“It bothers me that it is on our website,” Cathey said Tuesday about the sister city relationship, which she wants to terminate so that it’s not “hanging over our head.”

Council members Debbie Sullivan and M. John Way also said Tuesday that they favor ending the relationship.

“I am troubled with the human rights issues,” Way said. “We’re talking about Tumwater’s seal of approval on this.”

Andy Hobbs: 360-704-6869 ahobbs@theolympian.com

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