PINE ISLAND — "To subject our town to this negative rhetoric for a number of months isn't the right thing."
Mayor Rod Steele had this to say before City Council voted unanimously Monday, Aug. 21, 2018, to rescind a resolution of support for a potential Immigration and Customs Enforcement, ir ICE, facility in the town.
The upstairs of City Hall was packed with people showing their support for the project and also those protesting the potential project with signs, including a vehicle sitting outside that said, "No Detention Center in Pine Island."
The council — which was missing member Mike Hildebrand — voted quickly with little discussion, except for Steele, who said numerous factors influenced their decision-making process.
"This council took on a very controversial subject," Steele said. "They took it head on. They did exactly what they said they were going to do. They wanted some time to investigate and they did. They looked into the situation and found some inconsistencies ... The program's not funded and we took into consideration the public input, which is very valuable and we honor that."
The council continued on with its regular meeting, with residents and spectators given a chance to speak later in the evening.
A mix of supporters and objecters voiced their opinions, covering numerous subjects and concerns.
Pine Island was one of six locations being considered for a detention center, so selection wasn't a guarantee. On June 19, the council unanimously approved a resolution of support to private developer Management and Training Corp. and has faced public and social media criticism since. There was no funding for the project at any point.
Those who spoke against an ICE facility thanked the council for rescinding its support, with many hoping the council can find other options for the land.
Alan Muller of Red Wing compared the detention center to that of a concentration camp, saying the city shouldn't be associated with such a project.
While no council members responded to comments during that time, Steele said the idea of the detention facility in Pine Island being likened to a concentration camp is a troublesome comparison.
"These are people that have been convicted of crimes ... anybody who looks at today's world and equates it something in the 1940s, is not being honest," Steele said after the meeting. "We're a different world. And we're a different world all over the world. There's people fighting immigration issues all over the world. So we're not unique (in) the United States."
Steele did not say at anytime that he was responding to Muller's public input time directly.
Tony Beck, owner of Beck's Auto Repair in town, argued for having the facility on Elk Run, saying it would help lower taxes and create numerous jobs.
"Just think of the economic growth that would come to this community by those jobs being created with this," Beck said.
An emotional Deb Radtke stood at the podium citing the recent potential discovery of missing Iowa student Mollie Tibbetts' body and a first-degree murder charge against Cristhian Bahena Rivera, an undocumented immigrant who has been living in the region for four to seven years.
Radtke, who said she worked in law enforcement for 17 years, asked the crowd to consider Tibbetts and her family.
"So if we took a step," Radtke said. "One stop. Just one person could've been saved, maybe, we don't know. But to fairly blame the council, for trying to do something to better the community, to maybe save a life. Whether it's your daughter, your granddaughter, your wife out walking at night. Or even a male. It doesn't matter. But Mollie didn't deserve this."
"Some of them are good people, I will give them [that] benefit," Radtke said about undocumented immigrants. "They want to make a better life for their families. Some of them, no. They come to take the jobs. Yes, they're cheap labor. But what about Mollie?"
After the meeting, Council member David Friese said the council did due diligence looking into the entire situation more while also considering public input. Friese said they city was just an option and that the council needed to consider an option like this.
"The things that people are missing with this project is: one, we as a council are responsible to look at the totality of the picture ... We have to look at the morality, of course, we also have to look at the economic feasibility," Friese said.
Steele said after the meeting he appreciated the public input they've received over the last few months, but comments from people outside the community have become difficult to undertake.
"We love engaged populus," Steele said. "We love that. Now, one thing we didn't necessarily fall in love with is the outside influence. We just had people from all over the state commentating and sending letters and phone calls. You know, it's kind of our decision and we've got a very capable council and we can make good decisions."