St. Cloud City Council Member Jeff Johnson may have done his city and state an unintended favor last week when he proposed that for the sake of “overall quality of life,” St. Cloud should impose a moratorium on refugee resettlement within its borders.
Johnson’s constitutionally dubious idea was met with an immediate chorus of criticism from civic leaders in St. Cloud and around the state. That outcry did St. Cloud credit. It may well be that an affirmation of St. Cloud and Minnesota as welcoming places where newcomers can thrive will be heard longer and louder than Johnson’s odious suggestion.
St. Cloud Mayor Dave Kleis sees that opportunity and hopes his City Council seizes it, he told an editorial writer last week. “My suggestion to the council is, since [Johnson’s] resolution has been introduced, they should pass an affirming resolution instead. They should show what this community really is,” he said. Johnson reportedly intends to bring his resolution the council on Nov. 6.
Now in his 12th year as mayor, Kleis has led St. Cloud through a period of rapid growth and demographic change. The city has seen a 40 percent growth in population since 1990. That year, St. Cloud’s nonwhite population stood at 3 percent; in 2016, it topped 20 percent.
That much change is bound to produce resistance. Johnson wants more information about the number of refugees moving to the city and the cost to taxpayers. But Kleis and other St. Cloud leaders have worked intentionally and effectively to keep their city focused on the opportunities for civic enrichment that growth and diversity bring. Just last week, the 12th annual Create CommUNITY gathering brought several hundred people to River’s Edge Convention Center to discuss how to deepen interracial relationships.
The goodwill that effort has built was tested and found to be strong 13 months ago when a 22-year-old immigrant student at St. Cloud State University stabbed 10 people at the city’s Crossroads Center mall. That tragedy might have heightened racial tension and even provoked violence. Instead, it occasioned an impressive show of community solidarity.
Chances are good that Council Member Johnson’s ill-conceived proposal will bring about a similar response. If it does, it will burnish St. Cloud’s reputation as a progressive city with a bright future in the more diverse America of the 21st century.