Montclair Council Votes To Terminate Russian Sister City Relationship with Cherepovets (POLL)

Montclair, NJ – The Township Council of Montclair, in a move to show solidarity for the people of Ukraine, voted to terminate its sister city relationship with the Russian town of Cherepovets Tuesday, a relationship that had been in place since 1991.

The vote was not unanimous. Mayor Sean Spiller who moved the resolution to rescind the relationship forward, voted to terminate, as did Councilors Bob Russo, Robin Schlager and Lori Price Abrams. Councilor David Cummings and Councilor Peter Yacobellis voted no; Councilor Bill Hurlock abstained.

Spiller had previously sent a letter to the Mayor of Cherepovets, but had not received any response. Spiller shared a letter at Tuesday’s council meeting he had received from the Consul General from Ukraine, who urged the termination of the sister city relationship, citing the horror and devastation of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Yacobellis said he preferred to suspend or pause the relationship and said the action sends the wrong signal.

Cummings questioned why the council was taking any action.

“I don’t want to sound insensitive, but I really wish we would focus on Montclair,” said Cummings. “I get it. It’s a great way to show compassion, but this is like the third or fourth time we’ve taken on national world issues when we should really be for focusing on what’s going in our township. I think you guys have done a great job with the fundraisers to send things over there, but at some point I wished we would just get out of this thing of getting outside of our township.”

“Taking action to sever our relationship with Cherepovets, Russia was a difficult but necessary decision. This measure sends a message loud and clear that Montclair stands with the brave people of Ukraine,” said Spiller in a statement Wednesday. “I want to thank those of my council colleagues who understood the need to support Ukraine in this critical time. Inaction in the face of injustice is simply not an option. Vladimir Putin must be held accountable.”

“Tonight I voted against the Resolution to formally end our sister city relationship with Cherepovets, Russia,” said Yacobellis in a statement Wednesday. “I think it is exactly in times of war when we have to keep lines of communication open between peoples.”

Yacobellis quoted and said he agreed with Sister Cities International’s position: “While suspending or ending a sister city relationship to register disapproval of a foreign government’s actions may seem, on the surface, like a positive policy protest action, it has the complete opposite effect – closing a vital and, ofttimes, last channel of communication with vulnerable or isolated populations.”

Cherepovets was one of four Montclair sister cities. Signage and a garden signifying the relationship is in place at Edgemont Park. The council did not discuss whether the signage would be removed at the meeting and the Town manager had not yet heard of anything about the signage from the Mayor or other councilors.

Mayor Sean Spiller, in a March letter to the Mayor of Cherepovets, had condemned the actions of Vladamir Putin.

The move to sever or suspend relationships with Russian sister cities is happening all around the country.

Per the town’s website, Montclair’s sister city arrangement with Cherepovets dates back to the dissolution of the Soviet Union. The Montclair-Cherepovets Sister City program grew out of the need to help bring medicine and food to a region struggling to provide its people with these bare essentials.

The first 12 delegates went to Cherepovets in 1990. Since then, Montclair professionals traveled to the city offering training, a number of student exchanges have also taken place, and, through the Montclair Rotary club, several Russian children received life-saving heart surgery in the U.S.

Mayor Jerry Fried hosted delegates from Cherepovets in 2011 and celebrated the 20 year relationship anniversary of the two cities.

In 2020, Spiller made a Youtube video congratulating Cherepovets on its Founding Anniversary, sending greetings and well wishes in Russian.

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  1. I applaud Cummings and Yacobellis for showing some compassion towards the average Russian citizen that is suffering because of actions they had no control over. It amazes me how many people have no idea that much of the world has nowhere near the freedoms we have here.
    Councilman Cummings is so right. Let’s clean up our own backyard and then worry about saving the world.

  2. I respectfully disagree with your rationalizations. Councilor Cummings is consistent in his priorities and his values. Where he sermonized was that remark of his you quoted. How much effort is there in voting for a what some may (not me) call a housekeeping resolution? Montclair had a special relationship with a Russian government entity.

    He votes on all kinds of silly stuff that isn’t cleaning up backyards. He should have just said it’s not a concern of his 4th Ward constituents.

    One of the freedoms citizens around the world don’t enjoy is freedom of the press. Imagine if you got all your news from Mayor Spiller? At least they will get a DHL letter from a sister government, alas a hegemonic one, that provides some balance.

    This is modern history (e.g. 1939) repeating itself. Do we have to do the “isolationist” thing and worry about hyper local matters like neighborhood Summer camps?

  3. And for Americans to cite taking the longview and avoid reactionary positions must make The World around us exclaim, “what! what the hay?” I accept we can argue of principles and their application. However, when people introduce patience and time as a justification not to act? I’ll just call BS. Decide what you will, but don’t hide behind time…it tends not to look back kindly. What we did to Dresden was a major catalyst for the Geneva Convention.

  4. Re: Cherepovets
    I’m sure the good people of Montclair can rest soundly at night knowing where our local leaders stand on the most obvious, unobjectionable and politically expedient issue of this century. Councilors Cummings and Yacobellis, good for you for opposing publicly such grandstanding. I have to admit I was stunned to see any members vote no, considering how vain and stylishly au courant the Council has become.

    Many of us understand, and appreciate, the hard work of governing. This was not that.

    Mayor Spiller, when you declare that this was a difficult decision (“Taking action to sever our relationship with Cherepovets, Russia was a difficult but necessary decision”) can you please: 1) Promise to get a new speechwriter for the next time; and 2) Lay out for the citizens what exactly was difficult about it. Did our most favored trading status with Cherepovets lie in the balance? Are you sending our graduating seniors off to war? Is your political future on the line because you’ve taken a courageous, some would say Lincolnesque stand? And again, how exactly was this a necessary decision? You are an elected official, words matter. Really they do.

    And then there’s this: “Vladimir Putin must be held accountable.” Honestly. The town council? How exactly? Are there other structures in place in our federal system that have been established to handle just such matters? And why is the Consul General of Ukraine spending his time soliciting Montclair’s foreign policy intervention in the tragedy his country is suffering back home?

    This is the problem with these types of declarations. They are vapid, self-regarding and always poorly written. They catalyze absolutely zero action beyond the dais in the town chambers. But much worse, they are morally objectionable because they exploit horrific circumstances for cheap political advancement. I would hope that the people of Montclair would see through such low motives. At least this time, Messrs. Cummings and Yacobellis have done so.

    Thank you, gentlemen.

  5. David Cummings equated the issue as us trying to “clean up” someone else’s backyard to cleaning up Montclair’s problems. To his credit, he did preface his statement by saying some people will take issues with his words – but, apparently not his constituents. Yes, I take issue and I am immensely disappointed in the man. And his speaking of “our own backyard”, I assume he is also addressing our community’s systemic racism as just a “clean up” operation.

  6. The images and stories from Ukraine we all are seeing amounts to clean up? Maybe if we added a Hillside Swap Councilor Yacobellis would have supported it.

    Yes, I can see how the Council’s Finance Committee untidiness is on par with the little shoot’em-up Russia is conducting. The Library clean up was certainly of equal moral standing as Ukraine.

    Luckily, Mr Hurlock was not taking the bait to compare the annual Upper Montclair Business District cleanup to Ukraine.

  7. My goodness, Mr. Rubacky. How in the world did we get from severing ties with Cherepovets to Systemic Racism in Montclair? Has it come to that?

  8. In general, I agree with Councilor Cummings that it would be best for our Township Council to “shop local” for issues and not wade into national politics. This, however, is different. A prior Council bound us—symbolically, but symbols matter—to a town in Russia. It’s neither surprising nor wrong that the existence of that symbolic bond became an issue, and our elected representatives had a three-way choice. They could decide to dissolve the bond, decide to keep it, or refuse to put the question on the Council’s. Dissolving the bond was the right choice, in my view.

  9. You make a good point, JeffJacobson. How about considering this, adding a fourth choice? Before issuing denunciations and slanders, should we not have reached out to our “sister city” to discern their true feelings and concerns in this tragedy? Perhaps the answer would have been a surprise to our Councilors who voted to sever ties. Maybe Cheropovets is a city dying to be heard, dying to separate itself from the Putin regime. Maybe they are secretly plotting to assassinate him. I personally have no idea. Neither does the Council, however.

    Not so long ago, Montclair was a town bent on letting the rest of the world know how angry, ashamed and hateful we were towards our president (even calling him “our president” was fighting words). He was a vulgarian, a fascist, a tyrant, a liar and a cheat, and if that wasn’t enough he was the most dangerous man on the planet.

    If the people of Cherepovets had informed us that because of Trump, they were severing ties with us, imagine the moral outrage of our neighbors. Oh my, the yard signs!! And yet with all the pomposity of comic book kings, our local solons made it clear that they were morally superior to all Russians, especially the Cherepovetsians who no longer deserved our comity and goodwill.

    I wasn’t prepared to use the term disgraceful when I first started thinking about this, but it fits. Jeffjacobson, you are so right that symbolism matters, but in this case it seems we got the symbolism all wrong. Our Council decided, apparently without shame, to denounce an entire group of people with no more “evidence” than that it was “necessary” (thank you Sean Spiller for leading the charge). That it fit the passions of the moment. It was also in keeping with cancelling Russian dancers and writers, student exchange programs, pouring out Russian vodkas. Those yahoo impulses don’t look so hot now, do they? Or do they?

    Remember “Freedom Fries” after 9/11? How Montclairions were so disgusted with that hillbilly jingoism? What happened here?

  10. But then again, maybe Cherepovets has no idea Montclair even exists. We do love our symbolism, feckless though it may be.

  11. Wow, Watchungski. I never looked at it that way. Maybe we Should take a closer look and reach out to Cherepovets. Should the Council re-open the debate, or maybe amend it? Or do they even listen to what people on this community forum have to say? That, I would Luuvvv to know.

  12. The people of Cherepovets do not enjoy the same freedom we take for granted to be able to criticize their government. They also do not enjoy a free press that gives them access to the true facts on the ground. If they had both of those things, then yes, it sure would be interesting to hear their views. But they don’t, and as a result, the Council’s vote was not about local opinion in Cherepovets.

  13. Congratulations jeffjacobson! I see you convinced the Planning Board Chair to follow land use law this time for Monday’s public hearing on the latest ‘Area In Need of Redevelopment’. The Council told you to look at the two parcels. Just be careful about that Transit Village justification stuff. That is far, far outside of the referral’s scope. A ½ mile to be more specific. But, I do love the implications of the recommendation.

  14. How very odd. The people of Cherepovets, according to Jeffjackobson, cannot criticize their government, and do not have freedom of the press and for this reason we should not reach out to them.

    “If they had both of those things, then yes, it sure would be interesting to hear their views.” But lacking both, their views don’t matter? It’s silly having sister cities to begin with, but having one and not talking to them especially at a time like this? In fact it’s the most urgent time to hear what they might have to say. What if there is an opposition, a brewing underground movement, a reinvigorated samizdat press? Human beings can yearn for freedoms without a free press and while suffering under tyranny. Wouldn’t you think they are at their most aspirational in just such times?

    You assume these people are all complicit. You assume these people are guilty because their government is guilty. I don’t know who you are, but I bet you weren’t around for Vietnam.

  15. Simplex,

    No worries. jeff and you agree. He said yes, not no.

    You might want to insist the PB actually post docs publicly when holding a public hearing. I know this is frustrating, but I swear, you’ll get used to it. We all do.

  16. Watchungski,

    You treat governments as though they are corporations. I was around for Vietnam – and old enough to understand people did ‘own’ what their government was doing, in their name. Maybe you are talking about France’s war in Vietnam? The French are much more practical tend tend to delegate the Republic.

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