WILLMAR - In a 5-2 vote, the Willmar City Council passed a "welcoming city" resolution Monday night in front of a full house.
The resolution says all residents are welcome in Willmar no matter their race, religion, sexual orientation and country of origin.
"It is a reaffirmation of what makes this country great," Councilor Shawn Mueske said.
Mueske and fellow councilors Fernando Alvarado, Julie Asmus, Audrey Nelsen and Kathy Schwantes voted in favor.
Councilors Ron Christianson and Rick Fagerlie voted against the resolution. Councilor Andrew Plowman was absent.
"I don't trust this document to do anything for the city of Willmar," Christianson said, who added people are either welcoming in their hearts or they are not.
"If you don't trust me to welcome you all, it is never going to happen. The resolution isn't necessary."
Other councilors felt there was a need and that it would do something for the city.
"If you live by it, it is going to make you feel good about the community you live in," Councilor Alvarado said.
There were a dozen speakers during the open forum who shared their thoughts on the resolution.
"The resolution helps us become better and stronger as a community and makes a statement to our neighbors. We are doing our best to listen and to advocate for what is important. Because we are a community and that is what community does," said 16-year-old Lydia Mier, who attends Willmar Senior High School.
Chris Bratvold said he supports immigration and the inclusion of those starting their lives in the community. However, he feels the resolution makes it look like Willmar isn't already a welcoming community.
"I am offended at the notion the community needs to be admonished by passing a resolution because of the actions of a few," Bratvold said.
Some in the audience said the resolution would eventually open the door to Willmar becoming a sanctuary city - a reference to municipalities that limit cooperation with enforcement of federal immigration law - but Councilor Mueske said those concerns had already been discussed by the Willmar Human Rights Commission when members discussed a welcoming resolution.
"We are not interested in Willmar becoming a sanctuary city, we were very clear," said Mueske, who serves on the Human Rights Commission.
There were also citizen comments regarding free speech and listening to differing opinions.
"Ordinary citizens in Willmar are regularly tarred and feathered and labeled for options some feel are not politically correct," Jim Dokken said. "Willmar has a diversity problem, and that is too many people refuse to tolerate options that are different from their own."
Sue Quist said the resolution would only deepen the divide in the community and being welcoming is a feeling you can't force.
"Government cannot legislate feelings, attitudes or emotions. A welcoming feeling is a personal choice, unique to each person's heart," Quist said.
There were others though who felt the resolution would help close those divisions and begin the important discussions needed to solve the real problems facing Willmar like healthcare, student debt, education and wage reform. Linda Olson also urged all citizens to take part in the caucuses Tuesday night.
"Building bridges begins tonight with passage of this welcoming resolution and continues tomorrow at 7 p.m. in location across our state. We can talk to our neighbours about bringing about real solutions," Olson said.
At the conclusion of the council meeting, Mueske, acting on Mier's request that leaders be accountable for their actions, apologized for comments he made.
When a controversy began late last year over Facebook posts many viewed as anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim, Mueske made a comment about the underbelly of Willmar. He said those words were about hateful comments that don't allow the furthering of dialogue, not about individual people.
"I believe that, if you took that as an individual, that was not unifying. I will hold that I will be accountable for that," Mueske said, who personally apologized to Bob Skor, Edward Peterson and Joe Fernkes if they took offense to his comments, and also apologized to the council as a whole if his comments diminished the dialogue.