Voters in Willmar's Ward 3 may have rejected Bob Enos' agenda by a 61.78 to 37.32 percent margin in last fall's municipal election, but anti-refugee websites--and State Representative Steve Drazkowski (R-Mazeppa) and Peggy Bennett (R-Albert Lea)--are using social media to share his July 7, 2015 remarks to the Kandiyohi County board.
Bluestem encourages our readers to watch the original video of the board meeting here. Enos' unscheduled statement starts about fifteen minutes from the end.
Perhaps the most ironic part of the episode is that the Center for Security Policy YouTube strips the identity of the speaker and the circumstances in which they were given. The agenda for the Kandiyohi County July 7, 2015 board meeting, as well as the video archive, reveal that refugee resettlement was not a focus for the meeting.
The West Central Tribune coverage of the meeting, Kandiyohi County Board meets with legislators, focused on a dialogue between state senator Lyle Koenen (DFL-Clara City) and state representative Dave Baker (R-Willmar).
Perhaps the lack of local attention to Enos' dire warning that the presence of Somali refugees will not only create a "pipeline to jihad" to Willmar, but also turn the West Central Minnesota regional center into the next Detroit, occurred because people in Kandiyohi County have heard it before from Enos.
In endorsing incumbent Rick Fagerlie in 2014, the editors of the West Central Tribune noted:
Enos moved to Willmar in 2008 following a city management career in Providence, R.I., and private business consulting work. He enjoys an agitator’s role and even said at a recent debate if elected he’d would drive them crazy. He demonstrated his lack of collaboration and teamwork during his recent tenure on the Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission’s Joint Operations Board. After multiple months of adversarial posturing and random attendance, he resigned before completing his term. Despite advocating for city transparency, Enos willingly served on Mayor Frank Yanish’s anonymous advisory committee.
If the flurry of letters-to-the-editor about and from Enos in the Tribune, news reports, and his now-offline blog How Willmar Works, are any indication of his agitator's role, much of the stirring of the pot has concerned Somali residents of Willmar and Jennie-O, the Hormel-owned turkey industry giant that is headquartered in regional center.
Indeed, given Enos' record of scorn for Jennie-o and agriculture as economic drivers in rural Minnesota, Bluestem suspects that neither Drazkowski nor Bennett would want to promote the clip if they knew more of whom they were sharing with their Facebook friends.
Imagine, indeed, the outrage from Daudt's caucus if a metro Democrat were to condemn meat-packing in this manner. We'd see it on Minnesota jobs Coalition fliers in every Greater Minnesota swing district next year--including Willmar's own HD17B.
Enos' record of statements
Writing to the St. Cloud Times, Bob Enos wrote in Somali-Americans must choose their allegiance:
Thank you for your coverage of Ann Corcoran's recent visit to St. Cloud concerning Somali immigration. With regard to Islamic Sharia law, if your fact-checkers read the Provisional Constitution of Somalia, here is what they would know.
Article 2 - "Islam is the religion of the State. ... No other religion than Islam can be propagated in the country. ... No law can be enacted that is not compliant with the general principles and objectives of Shari'ah."
Article 8(3) states: "A person who is a Somali citizen cannot be deprived of Somali citizenship, even if they become a citizen of another country."
A country's constitution represents the hopes, dreams, aspirations and expectations of its citizens.
The question to our Somali-American citizens: You've sworn allegiance to an Islamic theocratic state and a U.S. secular, democratic state, each founded on diametrically opposed ideals. You can't believe that both are correct.
You need to make a choice.
While Enos loved Corcoran's views, the St. Cloud Times did a bit of Fact-checking refugee resettlement activist.
In a November 13, 2014, letter, Explaining my own quote, Enos shares sentiments close to his "warning" in the board's open comment period earlier this month:
Readers of my blog How Willmar Works have asked me to explain my newspaper quote regarding the “Perfect Storm” on Willmar’s financial horizon.
Five converging forces threaten to irreversibly transform Willmar’s financial footing.
By optioning 30 acres of land, Jennie-O signaled its intent to ramp up both manufacturing and a huge demand for unskilled workers.
The Nov. 2 Minneapolis Star Tribune reported a new wave of Somali refugee immigration. Along with secondary relocation to our state (which Somalis from other states call “little Mogadishu”), the reporter concludes the combined influx into Minnesota will be unprecedented. Cheap housing and unskilled meatpacking jobs make Willmar a top destination. Will government and church-based resettlement agencies again abandon Willmar’s taxpayers, or will they finally provide the financial follow-through to finish what they start?
Mayor-elect Calvin pledged to increase “affordable housing.” In government-speak, “affordable housing” means subsidized housing. The re-use of Regency East trailer park as “workforce housing” will be subsidized by tax breaks. Whose tax bills will pay for those subsidies? Ours.
The School Board wants taxpayers to approve nearly $50 million in new debt. Bilingual education is expensive; yes, property tax hikes.
While Willmar’s net population has remained steady, the in-migration of 7,500 foreign-born has been offset by an equal decline in middle-income residents. Historically, “white flight” reduces the tax base, which increases property taxes, which lowers house prices, increasing tax rates, which drives away more middle class — a familiar cycle. . . .
The "Perfect Storm" post on the now-inaccessible "How Willmar Works" blog that Enos is explaining notes:
The case of the Somali influx to Willmar is an example of the best intentions gone awry.
I found my way recently to two field officers who had feet on the ground in Somalia during the vetting, organizing and airlifting of refugees from 1999-2001. They worked on behalf of the United Nations High Commission of Refugees. I also unearthed two US State Department monographs, commissioned from academics familiar with the socio-political background of the country. Finally, I've spoken with elected officials of a US city of 36,000 residents which was deluged by the relocation of 8,000 Somali refugees to their locale. The city became the subject of worldwide attention in 2010, and again in 2012, as the population struggled to cope with its new reality.
This entire episode coalesced into the perfect storm in the US, as well as other countries cooperating in the endeavor. In 1999, the United Nations received commitments from several nations, including the US, to relocate Somali political refugees during a civil breakdown that followed a military coup which removed the longstanding President Siyyad Barre from office. The military was unable to maintain order in the aftermath, and civil war among armed tribes organized by feudal warlords ensued. The decade of the 1990's was a humanitarian catastrophe in Somalia. During this period, over 50% of children under the age of five died of starvation. Virtually every social institution other than the family unit disintegrated in chaos and anarchy. The UN declared Somalia to be "the most failed nation-state on earth." The US Immigration and Naturalization Service dispatched teams to assess and screen candidates for relocation to the US. Its psychologists determined that a full 100% of screened candidates were suffering from severe post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
The US State Department contracted with several Volunteer Agencies (VOLAG's) for the first phase of resettlement. These were primarily faith-based organizations. The Lutheran Refugee and Immigration Service, based in Pennsylvania and Maryland, was likely the first point of contact for refugees bound for Minnesota. Refugees were met at US airports for temporary settlement. For three months, the new entrants were debriefed, received continued medical support, and were oriented to expectations of living in America. At this time, government bureaucrats and representatives of local faith-based agencies met and, absent any local input, unilaterally decided which cities and towns would receive refugees, and how many. The criteria for logistical assignments were said to be (1) the availability of inexpensive housing, (2) government benefit packages at the local level, and (3) the availability of unskilled employment opportunities, especially in meatpacking. 90% of Somalis were nomadic herdsmen, thought to be skilled in meat processing. Hence, the density of resettlement in the northern Midwest.
No evidence was found that could suggest that local government officials and residents were consulted or prepared for what was to come.
In stage 2, local faith-based agencies began an eight-month program of assisting the physical relocation to individual communities, with plans for follow-up support. In Minnesota, the lead agency appears to have been Lutheran Social Services, with likely cooperation of Catholic Charities.
All of the service agencies appear to have received government funding for their efforts.
Representatives in Minnesota established contact with prospective employers, which, in Willmar, was Hormel Foods. Hormel was in the process of completing its acquisition of the Turkey Store of Barron, Wisconsin, and was merging the company with its Jennie-O subsidiary, which had been acquired in 1986. The merger necessitated a considerable increase in manufacturing capacity in its Willmar plant, so the influx of Somali entrants with potential meat processing experience was timely for the company. It would be interesting to investigate the possibility that Hormel may have received government funding for training and assimilation of the new employees.
Through all of this, it appears that Willmarites continued to receive no information or preparation for the big picture in play.
The fly in the ointment, however, was the final component contributing to the perfect storm:
The 9/11 terrorist attacks.
In the wake of 9/11, no agency, government official, or elected representative would be willing to commit the political suicide of owning responsibility for the en masse relocation of a Muslim population at this time. Instead, government agencies and faith-based service contractors seemed to have re-defined the mission as the physical relocation of refugees and nothing more, even though, as we now know, the real work was just about to begin. The new reality became clear very quickly, and it was a reality that both the new Somali entrants and the indigenous Willmar population shared in common:
We were on our own.
Understandably, there was culture shock all the way around. Willmarites soon felt exposed to behaviors which appeared antisocial, xenophobic, misogynistic, slovenly, and hostile, from people seen as uninvited guests. In this writer's experience, Willmarites take great pride in their version of "Minnesota Nice" and its accompanying civility: the "one-finger wave" from the steering wheel; the eye contact, a smile, a cordial hello to the passerby, whether friend or stranger; ceding a parking space or a late turn signal out of courtesy; showing compassion to a neighbor. These are cultural attractions to many outsiders who either discover or re-discover the Willmar community. Willmarites were, and continue to be baffled as to how a people could behave so inhospitably, having received a second chance to not only start over on the heels of abject misery, but to star new lives in what is arguably the wealthiest, most charitable, most democratic, most productive social experiment that mankind has ever produced: the United States of America. Rather, Willmarites would expect to see some humility, some respect, some gratitude, from refugees of violence and oppression who now were blessed with the opportunity to share in the fruits of a country they had no hand in creating. Willmarites dared hope that their new Somali neighbors might realize they had much more to learn from our social experiment that we had to learn from theirs.
WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?
It is time to re-visit the government agencies, NGO's, faith-based service organizations, and church groups that have been patting themselves on the back for over a decade while Willmarites have footed the financial and social costs for their largesse. It is time they became our real partners, with experts and checkbooks in hand. Undoubtedly, that won't take place unless they receive some encouragement. Friends in the media: take heed. Elected officials of resettlement cities and towns across America need to begin communicating with one another, comparing experiences, and banding together in order to make a stronger case for getting the additional resources we deserve to work all of this out.
And it's time for Somalis and indigenous Willmarites to communicate directly, to work harder to find common ground and to re-negotiate the ground rules for more cooperative and acceptable social behavior. In short, the re-negotiation of our Social Contract.
Because the fact is, friends, both native Willmarites and Somali refugees were shortchanged by the handling of this episode, due to accidents of history and political expediency. It's time for the architects of this episode to own up to the damage they created by dropping the orphan on Willmar's doorstep and sneaking away in the middle of the night.
We need to find our way home again.
Enos was not a resident of Willmar until 2008, so it's curious to read his reflections on the influx of Somali people in the area.
These sentiments about the horrors of refugees are echoed in the July 7, 2015 open comment period statement to the board. The response in online letters wasn't favorable. Anis Iman wrote in Enos' comments were a disservice to Somalis and to Willmar:
This letter is in answer to Bob Enos’s letter, “Explaining my own quote.”
First, I want to thank Ward 3 residents for not voting Mr. Enos into any kind of office as your argument shows that you are biased against a specific ethnic group or immigrants as a whole, do not embrace diversity and are against a company that employs over 2,000 employees from the Willmar area. I see a dividing leadership trait in your argument, not what a real leader would put forward in a blog, let alone the city newspaper. Therefore, we are lucky you did not misinform more than 45 percent of the voters in Ward 3.
Your whole argument is based on stereotypes, generalist and vague comments. A politician can lean left or right but when you start stereotyping and generalizing a whole ethnic group, or immigrants, then you have lost credibility and respect. No wonder you lost in the election in Ward 3.
Somalis are not threatening to transform the financial footing of Willmar in any negative way. Most of the Somalis in Willmar have jobs. We pay taxes like any other residents in Willmar. We shop at local stores like any other residents. Most of the Somalis live in apartments or houses and pay on average $650 dollars for two or three bedrooms. Is that affordable housing? And remember, if somebody has a job, which most of the Somalis do, then the chances of receiving or asking for welfare are slim to none. . . .
Enos' remarks in a candidate forum for his unsuccessful bid were negative about the city's Somali residents, according to the Tribune's report, Candidates make their cases for City Council:
Forum moderator Bev Benson of the Plymouth-Wayzata League of Women Voters, asked if the crime perception was accurate.
Fagerlie said he does not believe the city has a high crime rate. Fagerlie said the city has a strong police force, which is almost at full strength and is getting a K-9 unit along with the Kandiyohi County Sheriff’s Office. “I have always supported and will continue to support a strong police force,’’ he said. . . .
Enos said he suspects the perception resulted in people, especially white people, avoiding downtown at night. “So we can’t very well have crime if there’s nobody there,’’ he said.
Among the host of questions, Benson asked the candidates if they have spoken to Somali and Hispanic residents and business owners, and if not why not, and if so what conversations did they have. . . .
Enos said he has lived in cities nearly all his adult life and are always large and quite diverse. “It is nothing new to me,’’ he said. As he talked to people around his ward and especially downtown, he said it was clear to him there is much disinformation and urban legend. He said the Somali population in America is unique as one of the only political refugee populations to emigrate to this country in last 20 years.
“When governments and churches organized this emigration, no one spoke to us about this,’’ he said. . . .
In a letter-to-the-editor, Troubling forum responses, Betty Knutson of Willmar took issue with that notion:
. . .Bob Enos, who is running for Ward 3, stated that the government and churches who organized this immigration did not ask us. I didn’t realize people need to ask where to live. America is a free country.
John Burns wrote the editors in Myth of white grievance:
. . . The most troubling response came from Bob Enos who evaded the question, merely asserting that he had lived in diverse cities before moving here. While the candidates’ responses were on the whole pretty sad, coming from those who claim to represent all of Willmar, Enos went out of his way to show contempt for those of Somali origin.
According to his mythology of white grievance, we whites should have been consulted before Somalis were allowed to settle here and work. Perhaps we could have had a referendum on that issue. Somalis have a legal right to be in this country and a constitutional right to move and settle where they see fit.
I do not recall being consulted before Enos moved here, a mere six years ago.
Enos ripped Jennie-O's employee bonuses in a December 4, 2015, letter Generosity or company greed?:
Before we grow weak at the knees, let’s put this into perspective. An employee who receives a $1,700 bonus is receiving the equivalent of a rise in her hourly wage of 85 cents. The typical employee earning $12 an hour — a mere $2.50 over the minimum wage Minnesotans will see in 2016 — actually made $12.85 an hour.
Jennie-O Turkey Store is a powerhouse business. Hormel calls the turkey company the most successful business combination in Hormel’s 135-year history. Jennie-O is Hormel’s most profitable division. While Hormel’s overall profit margin for 2014 is 16 percent, Jennie-O’s profit is 23 percent. Jennie-O is largely responsible for a 25 percent increase in dividends to Hormel stockholders this year.
But here’s the rub, folks. With Jennie-O’s profit being 10 times larger than the city of Willmar’s annual operating budget, where does that company get off, demanding free land, free road relocations, and free tax breaks? How does our city government justify over $6 million in tax-funded giveaways to a subsidiary of Hormel, a company that, in 2013, awarded over $6 million in bonuses to its top five executives, including Jennie-O president Glenn Leitch? . . .
In Start listening to all Willmarites, Enos told Tribune reporter David Little:
. . . Enos would focus on three areas.
First, reduce the size and expense of government. Eliminate duplication, improve efficiency, control spending, and rein in taxes. “We cannot devote tax dollars to every new idea that comes along. Instead, we must pick our shots very carefully and choose for success.’’
Second, diversify Willmar’s economy. While agriculture and meatpacking are the backbone of the local economy, the city must attract new business opportunities. Otherwise, young people will continue to leave Willmar in search of greener pastures in this new economy, he said. “We must aggressively court manufacturing, service industries, and high technology: industries that employ higher-paying, knowledge-based workers.’’
Third, he said Willmar “should begin a long overdue community conversation among its races and ethnicities, to openly acknowledge the problems with our current ‘social contract.’ ’’
“Talking about race relations doesn’t make us racists any more than talking about terrorism makes us terrorists. There’s a great deal of pent-up frustration over this issue and it’s not healthy. It’s time to re-focus on our common interests, and re-negotiate the ground rules for living together peacefully and productively,’’ he said.
Earlier, the paper reported that Local government critic Bob Enos resigns from EDC Operations Board. Enos had criticized a budget that supported ag-based development in an earlier letter, EDC needs a new approach:
Misrepresentations, misstatements, and outright lies demand my response.
Farmers like Kim Larson, who characterize any questioning of government farm supports as attacks on farming’s heritage and way of life, may explain why the farm bill is stuck in Congress. Questioning EDC farm supports doesn’t make one “anti-farming” any more than discussing race relations makes one a racist.
So let’s get to the facts.
The public minutes of the Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission executive board’s vote on the 2014 budget is clear. Two of three Willmar representatives, Councilman Steve Ahmann and Councilman Ron Christianson, opposed the ag-heavy $455,000 budget and $700,00 reserve fund, and rightly so. The rush to approval was led by County Commissioners Harlan Madsen and Dean Shuck and Councilman Denis Anderson. What do these three have in common? Political muscle and income made from agriculture. As to Mr. Larson: The organization Environmental Working Group has tracked farm subsidies from the U.S. Department of Agriculture since 1995. It reports Kim P. Larson has received federal subsidies of nearly $500,000. He also worked as an agricultural specialist to — you guessed it — the EDC. As for Willmar’s economy, anyone with a 401(k) retirement plan knows it’s foolhardy to invest the entire nest egg in one or two stocks.
Kandiyohi County must expand beyond agriculture.
According to the Star Tribune, in just two years, the net income of Minnesota’s farm industry grew from $4.5 billion in 2010 to $8.2 billion in 2012. That’s an 82 percent growth in income. This is a blessing to the entire state, but it certainly does not justify additional EDC government aid.
New success stories in new industries should be our goal. . . .
Unfortunately, the paper doesn't post all letters online, so not all of the give-and-take exchanges are included on the Internet. But a February 2014 letter from Steve Gardner, Letter writer Bob Enos is misinformed, suggests that Enos had been ripping Jennie-O:
In his letter of Feb. 25, Bob Enos once again proves his to be a voice not to be taken seriously on matters of economic development, and he continues to demean the role of agriculture in our local economy.
It may interest him to know that agriculture in Kandiyohi County has a half-billion-dollar impact when measuring sales of agricultural products and livestock, and that ag processing provides nearly 2,000 jobs in Kandiyohi County. Or that Willmar is home to the largest turkey processor/marketer in the world, as well as the world’s largest turkey hatching company, and to one of the nation’s largest two-year agricultural schools.
Mr. Enos could learn these important facts by looking over the Kandiyohi County/City of Willmar Economic Development website. In fact, since he is a member of the EDC Operations Board, he should perhaps take time to learn some of these pesky things we call facts out here.
Factually, on Oct. 21, 2013, the Willmar City Council accepted the recommendation of its Community Development Committee in regards to a land write-down policy. The council minutes indicate that the “real value of the land lies in its ability to grow jobs and tax base.” The minutes also indicate that this policy is “a competitive necessity.”
This action by the council reasonably means that Mr. Enos’s accusations of incompetence or worse on the part of city staff in his letter is silly at best, and irresponsible on its face.
Further, at the May 6, 2013, council meeting, the council set a wage floor of $12 per hour “for jobs created by businesses receiving business subsidies.”
So, one could reasonably infer by his letter that Mr. Enos desires to halt economic development by a long-time corporate employer in the city, and in doing so, wishes to prevent the creation of good paying jobs, as well as a much-needed expansion of the tax base.
His is a fundamental misunderstanding of the tools used by cities and other local governments to enable economic growth in the 21st century. Pity the candidate this fall who follows Mr. Enos’s economic advice.
In 2013, Enos proposed severing economic development ties between the city and county, the Tribune reported in EDC board member calls for dissolving joint powers agreement between city, county, claiming that support for ag and tourism only help townships:
. . . As the city has become more urbanized, “its challenges have diverged from those of the smaller rural hamlets surrounding it,” he wrote. “Government supports for farming and tourism may help the townships, but the benefits to Willmar are limited. To those who would argue trickle-down economics, I say Willmar is entitled to better; a lot better.” . . .
Bluestem will keep an eye out for more rural legislators sharing clips that suggestag processing harms regional centers. Perhaps Drazkowski and Bennett believe that dire warnings about the workers employed in ag-processing--and the meat-packing industry itself--are a good follow-up to their supportive votes to help the turkey industry recover from the avian flu.
And there's nothing like an out-of-context clip from a county board meeting to prove it.
Here are the Drazkowski and Bennett Facebook postings (it's curious that the Center for Security Policy labels the clip a "Refugee resettlement hearing" when the board meeting was nothing of the sort):
And here's the stand-alone clip:
Photo: Bob Enos, rejected by voters in Willmar.
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