On a vote of 3-2, Burleigh County voted to allow the resettlement of refugees in their county. The narrow vote took place after four hours of public testimony. Comments both for and against were heard by the commissioners, but ultimately those supporting won the room, the argument, and the day. Thankfully, it prevented North Dakota for earning the embarrassment of being the first state to have a county to reject refugees.
Before the meeting, on my radio show, “Afternoons Live” I laid out my thoughts on the situation. In essence, how can you proclaim and tout “North Dakota Nice” while turning your back on people who are holding onto hope? We also encouraged listeners who live in Burleigh County to get involved. You can listen to the full clip below:
LISTEN TO TYLER’S TAKE ON BURLEIGH COUNTY REFUGEE RESETTLEMENT
Shortly before the county commission meeting started, Republican Governor Doug Burgum issued a memo. In it, he declared the importance of continuing to accept refugees. It was an important declaration from the Governor who is now a Burleigh County resident. Well, sort of anyway.
We have serious concerns that denying resettlement to a handful of well-vetted and often family-connected refugees would send a negative signal beyond our borders at a time when North Dakota is facing a severe workforce shortage and trying to attract capital and talent to our state.
– North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum
Embarrassment averted, we need to focus on what some elected officials revealed last night. It appears Commissioner Bitner was in over his head and unprepared. As the room was lost to his preferred position, he grew frustrated and claimed to not have enough information to vote that night. The thing is, information was presented. Either he didn’t do his homework prior to the meeting or ignored the information because he didn’t like what the facts laid out. Thankfully, State Senator Erin Oban of Bismarck was there to correct the record with the information commissioners deemed necessary. Turns out, Bitner admitted to the Bismarck Tribune he had made up his mind before the meeting anyway.
Speaking of unprepared, Bismarck Mayor Steve Bakken admitted to not knowing the costs or perceived additional strain on local law enforcement, not once, but twice. Did Bakken even bother to talk to the current or previous police chiefs? Did he bother to ask these questions when they discussed the city budget?
To be honest, it is time some elected officials put their money where their mouth is. Rather than using the hardships of others as talking points, it is time they do something about it. Bismarck Mayor Steve Bakken and Rep. Rick Becker were quick to talk about the “costs” of refugee resettlement and how it would compete with other needs not being taken care of. It is tough to take those concerns as genuine given their previous actions.
If they really are concerned about addressing those hardships, Bakken and Becker are in a position of power to get something done. They haven’t. Worse, rather than stepping up, both have voted against budgets to address some of the hardships they attempted to use to rally opposition on the continuation of the resettlement program.
For example, Bakken voted against the final approval of the City of Bismarck budget on 9/24/2019 that included money for a 24/7 shelter to combat homelessness in Bismarck. If he really wanted resources going to address the issue, he had an opportunity to show support. He failed. Actions speak louder than words.
The point in bringing up the lack of consistency from these officials is because last night democracy worked. Truth prevailed. The majority of residents in Burleigh County knew this wasn’t an either-or proposition. They voiced their support and demanded that the county continue to welcome refugees as our neighbors. I have no doubt they also support the other programs to help ease the hardships of others in the community. My hope is that this lesson and approach to community is replicated again going forward. Actions and votes matter.