St. Cloud council dumps refugee moratorium to reaffirm 'welcoming' community
ST. CLOUD, Minn. — After criticizing the St. Cloud City Council for springing on him a resolution at its last meeting, council member Jeff Johnson on Monday, Nov. 6, introduced his resolution calling for a moratorium on refugee resettlement.
"I took the high road here," Johnson said, stating he gave constituents and fellow City Council members ample time to weigh in on his resolution.
But even with the extra time, Johnson's resolution failed on a 1-6 vote, with Johnson as the only council member in favor of it.
Johnson's resolution called for a city moratorium on the placement of additional refugees through primary resettlement until Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota demonstrates it is in compliance with federal statutes. Lutheran Social Service is the local resettlement agency.
Johnson's resolution also called for an independent economic impact study to detail the costs to taxpayers and an explanation as to how the number of primary resettlement refugees is calculated.
At the last meeting, council member Jeff Goerger introduced resolution "in support of a just and welcoming community" to refute Johnson's resolution calling for a moratorium on refugee resettlement. That resolution passed on a 5-1 vote, with Johnson opposing.
Council member George Hontos was absent at the Oct. 23 meeting, but spoke about both resolutions Monday. He also seconded Johnson's resolution, which allowed it be discussed by the City Council.
Hontos said he is disappointed council members have not wanted to talk about the impact of refugees in the community. He also thinks Lutheran Social Service and St. Cloud Mayor Dave Kleis should have done a better job communicating with the City Council.
"It is time we begin discussing in an open and sensible way what role us elected officials need to have," Hontos said.
Despite Hontos' dismay for how the resolutions were introduced, he did not support Johnson's resolution, which he called "misguided and inappropriate."
After Johnson's resolution failed, Goerger made a motion to reaffirm the council's position "in support of a just and welcoming community." That motion passed on a 6-1 vote, with Johnson opposing.
Johnson's resolution cited the Refugee Act of 1980, which states the director of the health and human services department "shall develop and implement, in consultation with representatives of voluntary agencies and (s)tate and local governments, policies and strategies for the placement and resettlement of refugees within the United States."
Johnson had asked the City Council to discuss the impact of refugees a handful of times in the past few months.
People from St. Cloud and nonresidents have also spoken about the issue during the open forum part of City Council meetings beginning in July. Many of the speakers said they were concerned about the taxpayer cost of refugees. Some also cited concerns about refugees not assimilating, Sharia law and perceived crime increases.
More than 530 people in support of Johnson's proposed moratorium signed a petition called "St Cloud MN Malcontents - Support the Moratorium!" on iPetitions, an electronic petition provider. The petition was closed as of about 5 p.m. Monday.
The description of the petition states, "If you think that it is important to pause and review what the community impact of refugees and the secondary wave of refugees impact, please just add your name to this list."
Kleis has said repeatedly the city does not have a role in refugee resettlement and that no city money goes toward those programs; rather, federal dollars tied to immigration are handled by counties.
Johnson said he's tired of politicians telling him there's nothing they can do.
"More and more people are getting extremely frustrated," he said.