Live from Music Row Tuesday morning on The Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy – broadcast on Nashville’s Talk Radio 98.3 and 1510 WLAC weekdays from 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. – Leahy was joined in studio during the program’s third hour by former Wilson County GOP chairwoman Terri Nicholson.
Nicholson discussed the legalities of Trump’s refugee resettlement executive order by clearly outlining that a state’s decision is to up to the state and local government. She pointed out that Lee did not consult with the Tennessee General Assembly or local government officials when he made his decision to accept more refugees into Tennessee. In the show’s second segment, Nicholson detailed her proposed resolution in Wilson County.
Leahy: We are joined now by our good friend, former Wilson County Republican Party Chairwoman Terri Nicholson. Good morning Terri.
Nicholson: Good morning Michael. Thank you so much for having me on.
Leahy: By the way, our good friend Norm Partin will join us at 7:30. But we wanted to talk specifically about something you are doing to push back against the governor’s decision to put the welcome out for more refugees. Tell us what you’re doing.
Nicholson: That is correct. But let me start first by saying that we initially found out about this situation and decision on December 18 I believe.
Leahy: Yeah, a week before Christmas. Nobody else knew it was coming in the Tennessee General Assembly.
Nicholson: Merry Christmas.
Leahy: Merry Christmas. The governor acting on his own and not talking to other people as Norm mentioned earlier. Probably a mistake.
Nicholson: And that’s what brought me into the fold and where I thought wow ! Let’s back up for a minute. Something is going on here. Because I heard Speaker Cameron Sexton on the radio speaking. They were taken aback and they were surprised.
Leahy: To set in context. In September, honoring a campaign promise, President Trump issued an executive order … essentially federal law which said no refugees can be resettled in a state or locality without the approval of the state and local government. Now the state government has come down as the governor.
Although the state legislature certainly has a say in that. Governor Lee didn’t really give the state legislature a say. But at the county level, at the local level, it could be the county government or the city government. And that’s where you come in Terri.
Nicholson: Bingo! And as you look at the executive order, I don’t know how many times we’ve heard, we keep invoking Trump’s name into this and understandably so. But when you look at the executive order. Look at the very first title. It says “Executive Order on Enhancing State and Local Involvement in Refugee Resettlement.”
Leahy: State and local government.
Nicholson: And local.
Leahy: It doesn’t say, governor only.
Nicholson: And you know what Michael when I read through the executive order and local government. Seventeen times on these two and a half pages. Seventeen times President Trump wanted this particular issue to be discussed amongst your local counties.
Leahy: Discussed by the state and local governments?
Nicholson: Absolutely. It wants you to have cooperation with state and local governments. How can you effectively implement and integrate refugees if you do not have consent from your local counties and governments so they will know and understand? Hey guys, are we able to take these people?
Leahy: I don’t think Gov. Lee consulted with either the Tennessee General Assembly or any local government officials as far as I can tell.
Nicholson: No sir. Not to my knowledge. I sent out a resolution here that Wilson County can go by and it’s basically a statement saying, “Hey, this is how we feel. This is how we would like to address the issue.” And so I sent the resolution and some talking points to our mayors.
Leahy: In Wilson County?
Nicholson: In Wilson County.
Leahy: Mount Juliet is a location for primary resettlement of refugees, right?
Nicholson: Absolutely. When you look at the state department reports, upon refugees they’ve previously been resettled in locations that include Clarksville, Laverne, Smyrna, Mt. Juliet my back door, Franklin, Spring Hill, Shelbyville and Johnson City.
Leahy: So all the surrounding counties, not just Davidson County are centers for primary resettlement. And according to this executive order, that primary resettlement cannot take place unless that local government specifically says that.
And in Wilson County, the local government that we would be talking about would be at the 25 county commission members. And then the city of Mt. Juliet and the city council there. Specifically, you’ve put forward a resolution that you’ve given to the county commissioners that are apparently going to consider it January 27 right?
Nicholson: Yes, sir. We have it on the records. It’s going to be added to the agenda for discussion. Let me go ahead, and I don’t want to overstep what our county is doing.
Leahy: Yeah, go ahead.
Nicholson: At this point, these gentlemen had no knowledge of what was going on other than what we heard on the radio. It was clear there was no consultation with our local government.
Leahy: But, there are 95 counties. Under the president’s order, you can and should consider this resolution.
Leahy: Now this resolution was put together by an attorney very familiar with the refugee resettlement law. So it’s pretty airtight.
Nicholson: Definitely. So, what I wanted to make sure we know is that it’s being presented I think next week.
Leahy: So it’s on the agenda. It’s not scheduled for a vote yet?
Nicholson: Not yet.
Leahy: That was the point.
Nicholson: Not yet. It’s just going to be on the agenda. In Mt. Juliet, the mayor has it on the agenda.
Leahy: So in the counties, January 27 and in Mt. Juliet it’s the beginning of February.
Nicholson: As I understand, correct.
Leahy: So let’s go over the details of what this resolution actually says. It says basically this is to empower the local government as the president’s executive order does to have a say on resettlement on refugees in that local area.
Nicholson: Absolutely. That is correct. So where we started with this resolution is we went back and we looked based on the executive order and understood the significance and importance of local involvement. So that’s where the resolution was constructed from.
Here’s the crux of the issue, the funding notice permits federally contracted refugee resettlement agencies to resettle different groups of refugees anywhere from 50 to 100 miles away from the resettlement agency office.
Leahy: So in Tennessee, an arm of the Catholic charities voluntary agency gets paid by the federal government to resettle these refugees. That arm is called the Tennessee Office of Refugees. It’s some part of the state but it’s called the Tennessee Office of Refugees. Under that, if they have an office in Nashville they can draw a circle with a 100-mile radiance and they can resettle that person anywhere.
Leahy: Wilson County would be in that area, right?
Nicholson: Absolutely. And that’s where it comes in where it says, “consenting” counties and “non-consenting” counties, cities, and towns can be forced to participate in the initial resettlement of refugees. Now see, that doesn’t really go over well with a lot of us who prefer to have input.
So we prefer to have the ability to say “hey, we need to step back. Let us look at our resources and our infrastructure and determine if this is something we can handle.” So this is where we have to have the ability to speak with each other and discuss it. Because that’s how your best discussions are made. Your best decisions are made when you have a discussions among everybody.
Leahy: So when you say the ability to handle. I think it’s very interesting because there are some costs associated with the primary resettlement of refugees in any county. And I guess some of those costs are related to schools. Talk about that a little bit.
Nicholson: That is correct. Wilson County is a wonderful county. We have a lot of people who love to come out here and I can certainly understand why. With that, we have a lot of costs in an area that also accommodates and includes growth. And one of those happens to be our school system.
We are in the process of building a very new nice high school off of Lebanon Road and North Green Hill Road. And it’s going to be a rather expensive venture. It’s over $100 million for this new high school. So it is a costly venture.
And we’re also looking at the ability of how we are doing with our expenses and our debt. Unfortunately right now, as I understand it from the last report I received we are not allowed to borrow any more money.
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Photo “Terri Nicholson” by Terri Nicholson.