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Amid Heated Debate, Sandpoint City Council Withdraws Resolution Supporting Refugees

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Sandpoint City Council members voted Wednesday night to withdraw a resolution supporting refugee resettlement, bringing an end to a heated, month-long controversy.

Cheers erupted from the audience when newly elected Sandpoint Mayor Shelby Rognstad asked the council to withdraw the resolution from consideration. A measure meant to counter statements from Bonner County commissioners and Sheriff Darryl Wheeler opposing the resettlement of refugees, the resolution was intended to restate Sandpoint’s commitments to human rights, according to Rognstad.

“This resolution has only served to divide us and this community,” said Rognstad, as he requested the withdrawal. “That saddens me.”

Once again, anti-refugee activists turned out in force to oppose the resolution and, once again, the council meeting procedure was punctured by applause and shouts. When Rognstad called for order, the crowd responded with catcalls.

Members of the Bonner County Human Rights Task Force, which was founded in the 1990s to oppose the white supremacist presence in northern Idaho, turned out in support of the refugee resolution. - BEN OLSON
  • Ben Olson
  • Members of the Bonner County Human Rights Task Force, which was founded in the 1990s to oppose the white supremacist presence in northern Idaho, turned out in support of the refugee resolution.
The evening also saw a mobilization of refugee supporters, who held a candlelight vigil outside City Hall. Anti-Islam demonstrators gathered on the other side of the parking lot waving American flags and signs.


For Rognstad, the issue was a matter of community values. He said the resolution was intended as a statement similar to the human rights resolutions and nondiscrimination ordinances that Sandpoint has approved in the past.

“Do we want to be known as a community that celebrates tolerance and compassion, or do we want to be known as a community that embraces fear and discrimination?” he asked at the opening of the meeting.

However, it was clear from the outset that council support had fallen away from the resolution. Councilman Tom Eddy opened the discussion by saying he could not vote in favor of the resolution.

“I cannot support the resolution as it stands,” he said. “It serves as a piece of rhetoric that only serves to be divisive.”

In the same vein, Councilwoman Deb Ruehle issued a plea for community solidarity.

“None of us here in this room are people of hatred,” she said. “[This issue] is not cut and dried. It is extremely complex.

“There is too much unrest, too much negativity,” she continued. “Mr. Mayor, please withdraw this resolution.”

The decision was a victory for those who opposed the resolution. Victoria Zeischegg, a prominent local conservative figure, said she was pleased with the decision.

“I appreciate the withdrawal,” she said.

Others saw the decision as a defeat for human rights in Sandpoint. Daniel Radford, one of the members of the vigil, said he was a committed Christian but was disturbed by the message many were presenting in the name of Christ.

“I’m disappointed to see so many good Christian people worship the fear of Muslims rather than the fear of God,” he said.

A version of this article was first published by the Sandpoint Reader.