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Burleigh County Commission rejects 'straw poll' vote on refugee resettlement

Dave Thompson
Prairie Public

The Burleigh County Commission has rejected the idea of putting the issue of the county accepting refugees on the ballot in the June primary.

It would have been a non-binding “straw poll.”

The vote was 3 to 2.

In December, the Commission – on an identical 3 to 2 vote – agreed to accept up to 25 refugees. Burleigh is one of three counties that will accept refugees – the others are Cass and Grand Forks.

Commissioner Brian Bittner brought up the proposal – saying he had been approached by a citizens’ group. And Commissioner Jim Peluso moved that the matter be placed on the June ballot.

"I can't see the harm in having a straw poll," Peluso said. "Let our people in Bismarck tell us how they feel."

But Commission chairman Jerry Woodcox opposed it.

"The decision has been made," Woodcox said. "The program is going to keep on going until the end of September, and we'll revisit it again at that time."

Besides Woodcox, commissioners Kathleen Jones and Mark Armstrong voted “no.”

Woodcox said the Commission will receive a report about any costs associated with refugee settlement – and at that time will make a decision whether to continue accepting refugees.

After the meeting, Woodcox told reporters he thinks approving a straw poll could further polarize the community.

"I've had 800 e-mails on this so far," Woodcox said. "We'd have another 800, and we would have letters to the editor over a program that has been in existence for 50 years."

Woodcox said the resettlement program is a good program, and has been run effectively.

"I've had 20 refugees that have worked for me in my business," Woodcox said. "I have not had one problem with any of them."

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