- Associated Press - Sunday, November 22, 2015

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - The mayor of the small eastern Iowa city of Swisher announced recently he would defy state orders to halt the acceptance of Syrian refugees, gaining plenty of attention as well as concerns from some local residents who say they’re unsure what to think about the sudden spotlight on their community.

Swisher, a city of about 900 people just south of Cedar Rapids, has a tiny main street and staples like a grocery store, post office and American Legion post. A historic dance hall closed last year.

Lots of out-of-towners stop by the joint coffee shop and restaurant on their way to work, and owner Karen Vondracek was busy serving them food Wednesday when she started getting text messages from family and friends about Mayor Christopher Taylor’s proclamation.

“I think it just was a surprise,” she said, noting that she wasn’t expressing her opinion about the overall topic. “Especially coming from a mayor of a tiny town.”

The one-page proclamation doesn’t mention Branstad or his comments on Nov. 16, which said state agencies would halt any work on Syrian refugee resettlements in Iowa. The proclamation simply said Swisher welcomes all visitors, “regardless of national origin or refugee status.”

It was a direct response to Branstad, said the mayor. He said he didn’t know of any refugees currently living in Swisher, and he wasn’t sure about the logistics of accepting them in the future, but it was symbolic gesture.

“We’re raised with this understanding of Iowa as a place that’s hospitable and neighborly, that we open our homes to those in need,” Taylor said. “I’m just a little disappointed in Gov. Branstad that he seems to have forgotten that.”

A message left for Branstad’s spokesman was not returned.

Branstad said his move was in response to the Nov. 13 attacks in Paris, which killed 130 people and wounded hundreds. They echo actions by more than two dozen governors around the country, who say federal officials need a more stringent vetting process that guarantees Syrian refugees entering the country are not linked to terrorism.

On Friday, Branstad announced he had added his name to a letter by 26 other Republicans governors asking President Barack Obama to suspend Syrian resettlement efforts. A day before in Congress, the House overwhelming passed a bill that would add more security hurdles for Syrian and Iraqi refugees coming to the U.S.

It’s a real concern, said Sandy Fults, a council member in Swisher, who said the mayor’s actions caught some residents “off guard.” She said some have expressed reservations about the proclamation, which had no input from the City Council.

“If things would have been handled differently, we wouldn’t be having all this tension and confusion going on in the community,” she said. “It will be addressed (at a council meeting). I’m sure the mayor didn’t mean anything bad by it. He is a good person … it’s a lot of information to absorb.”

Taylor said he wanted to get the proclamation out quickly.

“This is very much something that I wanted to undertake just as the mayor’s office,” he said.

Taylor said he’s received fairly positive responses, and it’s been praised by some city and county leaders in Iowa. It was also picked up by the staff of at least one presidential candidate. The Twitter account for former Gov. Martin O’Malley, who is seeking the Democratic nomination, tweeted its support for Taylor on Thursday.

Taylor recognizes some people may feel differently about the issue.

“I’m sure that there are going to be people who are concerned, that are afraid,” he said. “I’m more than willing to meet with folks to try to (remove) some of those fears.”

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