Carol Lewis’ pass-the-buck-shuffle

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Monday night, Councilman George Hontos made a motion to spend time during the City Council’s study session talking about the economic impact refugee resettlement has had and will have on St. Cloud. Hontos, Jeff Johnson and Dave Masters voted in favor of the motion. Jeff Goerger, Steve Laraway, City Council President Carol Lewis and John Libert voted against Hontos’ motion.

After the session, Lewis said “That’s a federal issue, it may have some state implications, but we really have nothing we can say.” Tuesday night, a loyal reader of LFR sent an email to the entire city council, including Ms. Lewis. This reader’s email said (in part) “Local governments definitely have a role in the process. There is a process that seems to have been overlooked which was put in place to give local people rights/ a say, and it appears that our local governing body may be ignoring the process.”

Ms. Lewis replied (emphasis added) “As I have told others who have sent me the same law, you are once again reading the law backwards. It is the FEDERAL GOVERNMENT that needs to establish a process for us to comment. You need to talk to Tom Emmer about this, not the City of Saint Cloud.”

That’s what I’d call the Carol Lewis pass-the-buck-shuffle. First, Lewis insists that the reader can’t possibly know what the law means. Next, Lewis insists that the federal government has the ability to restrict comments on the program, essentially limiting public commentary. That’s backwards thinking. Since when do citizens have to ask the federal government’s permission to give their opinion on federal programs that hit local taxpayers’ wallets?

Finally, Ms. Lewis implied that these uppity peasants shouldn’t pester her but should bother our congressman instead. The statute clearly defines roles for the federal, state and local governments:

(2)(A) The Director and the Federal agency administering subsection (b)(1), shall consult regularly (not less often than quarterly) with State and local governments and private nonprofit voluntary agencies concerning the sponsorship process and the intended distribution of refugees among the States and localities before their placement in those States and localities.
(B) The Director shall develop and implement, in consultation with representatives of voluntary agencies and State and local governments, policies and strategies for the placement and resettlement of refugees within the United States.
(C) Such policies and strategies, to the extent practicable and except under such unusual circumstances as the Director may recognize, shall-
(i) insure that a refugee is not initially placed or resettled in an area highly impacted (as determined under regulations prescribed by the Director after consultation with such agencies and governments) by the presence of refugees or comparable populations unless the refugee has a spouse, parent, sibling, son, or daughter residing in that area,
(ii) provide for a mechanism whereby representatives of local affiliates of voluntary agencies regularly (not less often than quarterly) meet with representatives of State and local governments to plan and coordinate in advance of their arrival the appropriate placement of refugees among the various States and localities;

Notice that the first sentence highlighted here says that “the Federal agency administering subsection (b)(1), shall consult regularly (not less often than quarterly) with State and local governments and private nonprofit voluntary agencies concerning the sponsorship process and the intended distribution of refugees among the States and localities before their placement in those States and localities.” According to Dictionary.com, the definition of consult is “to seek advice or information from; ask guidance from.”

Notice that in (C)(ii), it says that the Director “shall provide for a mechanism whereby representatives of local affiliates” of NPOs “meet with representatives of state and local governments to plan and coordinate in advance of [the refugees’] arrival the appropriate placement of refugees among the various States and localities;” That sounds like local governments have a pretty substantial role to play in this process.

Finally, let’s highlight that Ms. Lewis says people should contact Congressman Emmer on these issues whereas the statute says that the federal government should work with local governments in a collaborative effort.

It’s clear that the city council hasn’t lived up to its responsibilities. Let’s hope voters remember that the next time the 4 no votes are up for re-election.