CAMBRIA COUNTY, Pa. (WTAJ) — A war of words is beginning to take place after a local nonprofit’s plan to place Afghanistan refugees in Cambria County was revealed.

State Representative Frank Burns released what he described as a bombshell Friday, Feb. 25 stating that Johnstown’s Vision Together 2025 plans to relocate up to 100 Afghani families to the area. In his statement, Burns cites a November 2021 memo he said was obtained from a citizen-journalist through a Right-to-Know request.

The memo obtained from Vision Together 2025, detailed the organization’s proposed plan that seeks state and federal funding and is based on conversations with the Pittsburgh Mayor’s office, state officials and national non-profits in the sector. An early draft of the memo obtained by Burns also described a call with the White House that allegedly took place on Nov. 8.

“Apparently, Vision 2025 thinks it best to chart Cambria County’s future via calls to the White House and consultation with the mayor of Pittsburgh,” Burns said. “My definition of ‘community-driven’ is very different than theirs. The people who live here should come first, not last. I think their handling of this sucks.”

The Cambria County Democrat first requested public hearings from local officials in January after residents raised concerns over what was then a proposal to relocate immigrants to the area. He said his calls for hearings were “poo-pooed” by the volunteer-based organization.

In January, Vision Together 2025 President and CEO Mike Tedesco said their proposal was mostly investigative and explored the possibility of bringing legally vetted immigrants to Johnstown to help combat the area’s population loss and fill hundreds of open jobs.

However, the nonprofit’s plan shows they are moving forward with accepting immigrants to the city by recruiting interpreters, acquiring housing units, identifying employers and working with the school district. The organization also plans to meet with city leadership and garner support through local service and church groups.

Tedesco provided a statement by saying the organization is working to modernize Johnstown and added Burns assertions harm Cambria County’s image.

“Vision Together 2025 is working to transition Johnstown into a 21st-century city. We celebrate and embrace diversity. All are welcome in Cambria County and I’m afraid it’s not a legislative decision who lays down the welcome mat – it’s up to church basements, civic groups, non-profits, and people of good will,” Tedesco said. “Furthermore, manufacturing controversy that creates a perception that Cambria County is an unwelcoming and racist place does nothing but harm our image around the world. I invite all those who are attempting to score cheap political points based on racist tropes to look toward the future and actually join Vision Together’s conversation regarding how to create it. All are welcome in Cambria County and all are welcome at Vision Together.”

Additionally, Burns claims the nonprofit purposefully failed to meet with himself and state elected officials in the county to discuss their plan and said they were not upfront with the public.

“They were deathly afraid of a public hearing – and now we’re starting to see why. If Vision 2025 truly considered the public as a full partner, they would have come clean from the start,” Burns said. “Instead, they have a secret plan that includes pursuing state funding to develop ‘English as a second language’ programs – and they never even told me anything as a state representative?”

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