Refugee community honors Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon with a surprise party

Published: Tuesday, Dec. 4 2012 6:35 p.m. MST

Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon, center, speaks with Amadou Niang, a refugee from Mali and a member of the United Africans of Utah, at the Salt Lake County Government Center on Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2012.

Ben Brewer, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Representatives of Utah's refugee community hosted a surprise party for Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon on Tuesday afternoon to thank him for his support of refugee services.

But the party was temporarily delayed while Corroon participated in a job interview. His second term as mayor ends in December. He did not seek re-election.

"It was going so well, I didn't think I should stop," he said. Corroon would not say who was interviewing him, explaining, "I don't want to jinx it."

The recognition ceremony, conducted in the chambers of the Salt Lake County Council, was attended by refugees and representatives of government and nonprofit agencies that serve them.

Gerald Brown, director of the state Refugee Services Office, said Corroon is held in high regard among refugees, nonprofit and government service providers for his efforts to revamp refugee services in Utah.

"I just want to say thank you from the bottom of hearts. You have made a tremendous difference for a lot of poor people in Utah," Brown said.

In 2006, Corroon and then-Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. co-chaired a refugee working group to identify gaps in the state's refugee resettlement system and to address other issues of concern to community advocates, starting with a series of public hearings.

The effort resulted in greater coordination of refugee services, creation of the State Refugee Office, a refugee advisory board and changes to state law to allow the use of private funds to provide training to refugee organizations and to provide grants for refugee services. The effort also helped secure new funding streams for services.

"He listens and he does stuff. Every time we've gone to him with our requests, he's responded. That's huge," Brown said in an interview earlier in the day.

When Corroon asked advocates specifically how Salt Lake County could be a better partner in refugee services, they said, "hire someone to be a liaison."

"He did," Brown said. "He hired ZeMin Xiao, and she's been outstanding."

Patrick Poulin, resettlement director for the International Rescue Committee's Salt Lake office, said Corroon has been instrumental in buttressing government support for resettlement efforts.

"He is what I call a true public servant," Poulin said. "He deserves that mantle. We sure could use a lot more people like him in government."

Aden Batar, refugee resettlement director for Catholic Community Services of Utah, said Corroon has been instrumental in reforming resettlement practices and forming partnerships between nonprofit and government entities.

"I consider him a friend to the refugee," Batar said.

Some 25,000 refugees have resettled in Utah since the end of the Vietnam War. All but about 200 live in Salt Lake County. About 1,100 refugees, many of them Bhutanese, Karen and Somali, are expected to resettle in Utah during the 2013 fiscal year, which began Oct. 1.

E-mail: marjorie@desnews.com

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