CRESWELL – It’s not dead yet, but it’s getting there.
After failing to sway his fellow councilors at Monday’s meeting, JoRell Medina will need to come back with a stronger case if he wants Creswell to adopt a resolution that would allow local businesses to defy the governor’s orders during future emergencies.
The measure, proposed in Creswell by Medina in May, is modeled after one in Baker City which has gained national attention for its anti-government statements.
City attorney Ross Williamson took a look at that resolution, and identified several red flags from a legal standpoint, and council identified a few of its own.
In that resolution in March, Baker City declared that pandemic mitigation measures are “arbitrary, ineffective and draconian,” that “lockdowns do not stop the spread,” and that masking mandates are “actively creating division and unrest.”
Despite the lifting of all state-mandated Covid restrictions this week, Medina said that the point is not moot and that he wants to see a resolution in place “in case something like this (pandemic) happens again.”
After looking over the resolution, Williamson said that councils don’t have authority to declare a mental health or crime-crisis emergency, and that he “does not support the council inciting or encouraging private individuals and private businesses to violate state authority.”
He said that, “While the resolution may not explicitly call for businesses to flaunt state authority, it sure gives the impression that the council supports such actions.” He said that moving forward with a resolution would only “embolden the community to act upon the perceived authority that the council is acting upon.”
It’s also not in “best practice” for councils to adopt resolutions for the purpose of making a political statement, Williamson said.
“When your community sees the Council adopt a formal ‘resolution’ they are right to assume that (council) is acting within (its) authority and that the weight of that resolution means something. Here, since the stated purpose is to impart a political message, I would discourage using a resolution as the vehicle to carry that message,” he said.
Beyond the resolution being used as a political statement, councilors questioned what purpose the resolution would actually serve in Creswell.
“I don’t want to see us waste a lot of time on something that has no backbone, no bite, no teeth. At the end of the day what does this resolution really do? … If we write something up that is really kind of telling the governor what we think, what does that accomplish? That does nothing for the citizens of Creswell,” Councilor Alonzo Costilla said.
Medina said that the resolution would “protect the citizens of Creswell” and “safeguard their freedoms.”
“What exactly will we be doing for the citizens of Creswell with this resolution? … I’m not sure exactly what we’re ‘protecting’ them from – from what the governor could do?,” Councilor Kevin Prociw asked.
Williamson encouraged council to visit with local public health officials to obtain the facts if considering a resolution similar to that of Baker City’s. “Clauses are not merely ‘throwaway’ statements in a resolution. They should form the factual and policy background for the resolution that is based on science and evidence,” Williamson said.
Williamson said this resolution could put the City “in jeopardy of being held accountable for future actions taken as a result of residents’ misinformed reliance on the council’s resolution.” If the City would move forward with the resolution, Williamson said the City could endure a great deal of scrutiny. He asked if it really wanted “to stand up and be part of the tip of the spear on this issue.”
“Baker City has clearly stepped out in front and is willing to take the abuse that comes with being on the forefront of this controversial issue,” he said. “My concern here is not so much the threat of actual liability … it is the threat of being dragged into litigation on the subject,” Williamson said.
He said that, should the City be sued related to this resolution, there is a “solid possibility” that the City’s insurance could avoid providing coverage. He also said that it’s a “significant financial risk” to go into a litigious environment without knowing whether the attorney defense costs would be covered.
Councilor Costilla said that Creswell and Baker City have had different experiences through the pandemic. While it is true that most businesses in Creswell endured financial hardships, city manager Michelle Amberg said she is not aware of any businesses that permanently closed as a result of Covid regulations in Creswell. Councilor Costilla also noted that the Baker City resolution was brought forth to council by business owners themselves, not by a city councilor.
Councilor Shelly Clark said the correspondence received in support of this resolution was not a convincing sample to gauge community interest. Those emails were copied-and-pasted verbatim and forwarded to council. She asked to see the data and metrics to prove whether business owners or community members would even support it.
If the council wants to move forward with discussing the resolution, it would need to prepare and submit content for consideration, and provide a clearer understanding of the goal of the resolution. “It’s very nebulous right now … I don’t even know what the name of the resolution would be at this point,” Amberg said.
In-person council meetings will resume July 12. Live streams of meetings will resume in up to two months, after the new media system is placed in the council chambers.