People pack City Center for council meeting

The Hutchinson City Council meeting was attended by more people than usual Tuesday night as they filled the council chambers at Hutchinson City Center. Most were there to show their support or disapproval of a resolution stating Hutchinson to be a welcoming and inclusive community. 

In front of a full house Tuesday at Hutchinson City Center, the City Council voted 3-2 against a resolution affirming the city to be a welcoming and inclusive community.

The result was met with applause by some in attendance and disappointment by others.

Those who opposed the resolution — Council Members Mary Christensen and Chad Czmowski, and Mayor Gary Forcier — said it was unnecessary and that Hutchinson was already a welcoming community.

Those who voted in favor of the resolution — Council Members John Lofdahl and Steve Cook — said it was needed to reaffirm the council’s duty of equal representation for all current and future residents, as described in the Constitution and Pledge of Allegiance.

“(The 14th Amendment) is equal protection for all people, including noncitizens. This is in our constitution …,” said Lofdahl, who brought the resolution forward. “The First Amendment is the free exercise of religion. So that doesn’t mean Christian religion, or Islam, or Buddhism, or Native American. It means you have the right to practice any religion. And again, it’s the 14th Amendment that defines your rights as a citizen or as a visitor to our country. And I think that’s all this resolution does. It affirms those constitutional priorities.”

“Why should we do it? Some couples renew their wedding vows. Is that necessary? To them, they thought it was important,” Cook said. “We have an opportunity here to affirm our commitment to be a welcoming and inclusive community. I don’t see the harm in doing that. Some of the comments that have been made, I think it just shows that we really do need to do that. In the end, we’ll be sending a message. I hope that message is that we are proud to state we are a welcoming and inclusive community, and we put that down in writing.”

“Resolutions do matter,” Cook added. “They provide a guiding document, and it’s a tool for council and staff. It’s a statement of what we believe in and what our values are … They are all in the background, shaping and guiding us.”

Christensen said that she had never heard anybody say Hutchinson was not a good place to live, and felt the city was already welcoming to new residents. She also said most of the people she spoke with felt the same way.

“I will tell you that I’ve met a lot of people who have talked to me about this, a lot of people have called and talked to me personally, and everybody is saying, ‘Why do you need a resolution in the first place? Hutchinson is a welcoming city. Have we ever turned anybody away?’” Christensen said.

Czmowski said most of the people he spoke expressed the same feelings.

“I’ve probably spent more time talking about this resolution than selling bicycles,” said Czmowski, who owns Outdoor Motion on Main Street. “That being said, I’ve had a lot of experiences like Mary did where people either completely disagreed with what was said in the resolution, or found it to be a waste of time. I have had some people who do support it, a handful of people, but largely they fall into one of those other two camps.”

When asked by the other two council members what they disagree with in the resolution, or what people they spoke to said they disagree with, Christensen and Czmowski said most just felt it was a waste of time.

Resolution ‘does not mean anything’

“Why do we need it? A resolution does not mean anything. It is not a law, it is not the ordinance, it’s just out there,” Christensen said. “So we are going through all of this for a piece of paper … Those people (making comments on social media) will say things no matter what. I don’t go by what those people say, you just can’t.”

“Some people admitted they hadn’t even read it, so I encouraged them to go read it,” Czmowski said. “Typically, I wouldn’t have heard back from those people. Honestly, it looked like they felt sheepish that they were wound up about nothing when they didn’t know what they were talking about.”

When Lofdahl said he had heard from people who did not feel welcomed in the community and left town because of it, Christensen said some of the blame may belong to those people.

“(Being welcomed) to a community and getting involved is (partly the responsibility) of the person who is coming in to the community. It’s a two-way street,” she said. “If you don’t reach out and join a church, get active in the community, reach out and meet your neighbor, say hello and greet them and get acclimated to this community, it will never happen. You cannot force people to be welcomed.”

Cook said he and Lofdahl attended a League of Minnesota Cities seminar back in January where the topic was about racial equity, and another reason to support the resolution was the possible economic impact it could have in the future.

“That’s a huge part of the discussion going forward with the whole demographic changes and diversity increases we’re going to be seeing in the future ,” Cook said. “… I was at a Main Street Minnesota program earlier this year in Fairbault, and we had someone from the (University of Minnesota) present about a study they did on immigration and future workforce needs in the state. Again, it’s huge. That’s an economic impact for our communities, for our growth and the economic health of communities. That’s important for everybody.”

People at the meeting were also given a chance to speak, and several voiced their support or disapproval of the resolution.

Hutchinson resident Morgan Baum said she had been trying to think of an analogy to help others understand why the city needs a resolution like this.

‘underbelly of Hatred and vitriol’

”The one I can think of is my small business. I’m open every day of the week, but I still put hours out, and I still put up a sign that says that I’m open, because I want a symbol out there for everyone to know they are welcome …,” she said. “It’s unfortunate that we need a resolution like this, but just because it’s unfortunate doesn’t mean it is unnecessary. I’ve lived in this town a long time as a child, and now again as an adult, and there has been an underbelly of hate, and vitriol, and awful speech online in the last 18 months that I’ve been back home. I’m ashamed for some of the things I’ve been reading. I hope you, our leaders, will pass this resolution unanimously so people know that’s not the true Hutchinson, that people won’t hide behind what they call ‘small-town values.’”

“This resolution has raised up that there is a voice out there saying that not everyone is welcome,” Laura Aase said. “I believe that Hutchinson can be a home for everyone, for other people, and ‘other’ does not always equal bad. ‘Other’ does not always equal people who are going to come in and hurt our community.”

Carol Johnson said she believed the city was welcoming enough and was concerned that the resolution would bring unwanted changes to the community.

“With every change made to this community, there are changes. There are changes to the way our high school, our grade schools, when you have different populations you have different needs,” she said. “You have community things that have to be paid for, so whenever there is a change in the populace, there are going to be changes in the cost to the community.”

“To put out a welcome mat, an invitation, I guess I question that,” Everett Hantge said.