A resolution regarding Blount County’s participation in the federal refugee resettlement program will not go to a vote at the Feb. 20 Board of Commissioners meeting.
Blount County Commissioners Mike Akard, Nick Bright and Steve Mikels drafted a resolution calling for the county’s exemption from the refugee resettlement program after Gov. Bill Lee gave written consent allowing refugees to continue to be resettled in Tennessee.
But when all agenda items for the February commission meeting were due Tuesday, no such resolution appeared.
This is because, Akard and Bright said, the resolution was never finalized or submitted.
“There was never a resolution like that on any agenda,” Akard said in a phone interview. “There was a resolution draft drawn up on Jan. 14 that was posted on social media.”
Akard, Bright and Mikels posted the resolution draft, which was formatted identically to previous commission resolutions, to their individual Facebook pages on Jan. 14.
“I posted it for comments. I was polling,” Akard said. “I became aware within 24 hours that it was a moot point, so I took it down immediately.”
The draft became “moot point” the next day, Akard said, because a federal judge in Maryland put a temporary block on President Trump’s decision to allow state and local governments to opt out of the federal refugee resettlement program.
Akard took the resolution draft off of his social media account the day the Maryland judge announced the temporary block, but Bright and Mikels still had copies of the draft on their public Facebook pages.
Despite not having removed the draft from his Facebook page, Bright said he still knew the commissioners would not be submitting the resolution to be voted on at the February commission meeting — saying that the judge’s block “took the ability away from us to do what the resolution had set out to do.”
Bright said the decision not to move forward with the resolution was made around Jan. 18 and finalized on Jan. 23 when commissioners received an email from the Tennessee County Services Association.
“TCSA gave an opinion that unless your county was contacted, there would be no refugees coming anyway,” he said.
According to the TCSA email, the majority of the projected 583 refugees to be resettled in Tennessee this year would go to the four most populous counties — Shelby, Davidson, Knox and Hamilton.
The email also informed commissioners there was no need for action on their part.
“If your county was not contacted by an agency requesting your permission to accept refugees, there is really nothing you need to do,” the TCSA email read. “Under the executive order, you did not have to opt-out, you had to opt-in or consent to receive refugees.”
At this point, the commissioners officially decided not to move forward with the resolution.
“We had never officially submitted it and so we just never did,” Bright said.
“It was known that we would not be bringing this resolution prior to the comments Commissioner Mikels made in last Saturday’s paper,” he added in a text exchange with The Daily Times.
The Daily Times made unsuccessful attempts last week to contact Akard for comment on the resolution; however, Mikels offered a phone interview Wednesday in which he said the commissioners thought about pulling the resolution after the judge’s block, but didn’t.
Mikels said he sponsored the resolution because he sought to protect both his constituents’ tax dollars and “the ability to govern from a standpoint of less government.”
Additionally, he said,“We have to be careful.
“We’re gonna load our country up with Muslims and that’s their whole thing — they try to overtake the world.”
Both Akard and Bright denounced Mikels’ statements.
“The resolution was never about hate. It was more like we need to take care of our own backyard before we can help others,” Bright said. “Commissioner Mikels’ comments about Muslims made me cringe as that is never what this was about.”
Akard said to him, the resolution was mostly about tax dollars.
“This was never about hate or any religious thing. It was 100% about tax dollars,” he said. “I definitely do not agree with the comments Commissioner Mikels said in the paper on Saturday about certain religions.”
Mikels declined comment about the resolution not going to vote.
The Blount County Commission will vote on other agenda items at the Board of Commissioners meeting Feb. 20 at 7 p.m. in the Blount County Courthouse.