Molalla, Canby pass resolutions against COVID-19 restrictions
The Molalla City Council passed a resolution May 26 "in favor of business and citizens' liberties and against COVID-19 restrictions."
The action follows a trend Baker City started in March when its city council passed a resolution describing Gov. Kate Brown's emergency declaration and "all subsequent and related OSHA guidance and present and future executive extensions" as "arbitrary, ineffective and draconian."
After more than an hour and a half of heated debate, Canby in early May narrowly passed its own resolution based off Baker City's. Estacada on May 10 declined to pass a similar resolution brought before its city council.
In Molalla, councilors Leota Childress and Jody Newland crafted the resolution, intentionally veering from Baker City's template.
"We felt that Baker City made a lot of threats," Childress said, "and there was some strong language in there that we didn't feel was representative of our feelings, nor was it wise."
Childress also acknowledged the symbolic nature of the resolution.
"What we're doing here is we're making a statement," Childress said. "We're just making a statement. We're not changing anything. We're not telling anybody you don't have to go by the executive orders. We're just firmly making a statement because we cannot override the governor's executive orders."
Based on cases per 100,000 people, Clackamas County remains in the high-risk COVID-19 category, which limits restaurant, gym and retail store capacity. The county can move down categories as cases reduce or when 65% of the population has received at least one vaccine dose. As of June 2, Clackamas County was at 61.9%.
Several Molalla councilors spoke up in agreement with the resolution.
"It's been frustrating to see what has been done to smaller rural communities in coupling us with Portland and Multnomah County and places that have much denser population," Councilor Elizabeth Klein said, "and the economic hardship that we're seeing in our community is a result of being coupled with all of these other places. … I think we need to stand up for our citizens and our business owners."
The two-page document claims state mandates have infringed on business and individual liberties and calls the mandates "inequitable and inconsistent." It suggests citizens "should have the freedom to decide for themselves how to proceed forward" and resolves that "the people of the city of Molalla desire and deserve the rights, liberties and respect afforded to them by the Constitutions of the state of Oregon and the United States of America.
"These rights and liberties that have been stolen need to be recognized and restored completely and immediately," it concludes.
Molalla's council passed the resolution unanimously and without incident.
In Canby, that wasn't the case as the council was split down the middle along party lines, with Mayor Brian Hodson casting the deciding vote in favor of a resolution.
However, Hodson suggested the document was nonpartisan and suggested it afforded the council an opportunity to support businesses.
Hodson brought the resolution before the council May 5 after reportedly handing a modified Baker City resolution to city staff for adjustments a few days before. According to councilors, the resolution was placed on the agenda the day before the meeting.
Toward the end of discussion, Councilor Traci Hensley revealed that Hodson had worked on the resolution in concert with Hensley, Jordan Tibbals and Shawn Varwig — the conservative members of the council.
Councilor Sarah Spoon said she objected to being excluded on party lines, along with fellow liberal councilors Chris Bangs and Greg Parker.
"I think as Councilor Hensley pointed out, you only worked with half the council on this," Parker said to Hodson. "And I think we can do better than that. And maybe we wouldn't be here if you had picked up the phone to Chris, to Sarah, to me, and said, 'What do you think about this?' Traci said it was the three of you, and this is what we've been worried about — that the conservatives would meet together, come up with language, come up with ideas and exclude half of the council from this discussion. The first time I heard about this was yesterday at 4:30, and come on Brian — we can do better than that."
Hodson read the resolution aloud, declaring, "The people of the city of Canby have the rights and civil liberties afforded to them by the Oregon State Constitution and the United States Constitution."
It calls state restrictions on businesses "arbitrary," suggests the restrictions have caused bankruptcies and other financial struggles in Canby and claims a "well documented" "significant rise in domestic violence, crimes of desperation, mental health impacts and suicide risks, perpetuated upon the citizens of Canby by the state's unreasonable and overreaching suspension of rights and liberties."
Some Canby citizens heard about the resolution and wrote in or spoke at the meeting. Hodson said three wrote in opposition to the resolution and eight in support.
Community member Kathleen Jeskey was one to speak up against the resolution, objecting to how quickly it was pushed forward.
"That really gives the impression to a lot of folks that someone who holds certain opinions might be trying to rally up the folks who share those opinions 100%," Jeskey said, "and then kind of ram those opinions through as if they represent the whole city before anyone who doesn't agree in the slightest way has a chance to speak in opposition to any of it.
"That's not good government, and it is disrespectful of Canby citizens and of democracy."
Jeskey suggested holding at least one other meeting to discuss the specific language of the resolution and potentially make modifications. Spoon made a similar suggestion later in the meeting, to no avail.
Following citizens' comments, Spoon and Bangs asked a series of questions they said exposed the document as containing misinformation and in need of revision and verifications.
For example, Spoon pointed out that business bankruptcies are down by nearly 40% compared to the previous year. Furthermore, Hodson failed to provide any specific statistics on increases in crime or domestic violence as claimed in the resolution.
Bangs, a high school government teacher, pressed Hodson to define the "rights and civil liberties" that the resolution claims have been taken from citizens, noting the terms are mentioned seven times.
"What are you talking about when you're talking about civil liberties?" Bangs said. "Civil liberties are also called civil rights embedded in the Bill of Rights in the Constitution. That's like the right to bear arms and freedom of speech; so those things have not been curtailed. So, what are you talking about?"
Hodson responded that citizens also have the right to the pursuit of happiness according to the Declaration of Independence. However, the Declaration of Independence was not mentioned in the resolution. A week later when Molalla passed its resolution, councilors had added the Declaration of Independence to their document and changed "civil liberties" to "individual liberties."
Bangs also suggested Canby's resolution was not clear on which restrictions were problematic.
"Is it churches? Is it about businesses? Because the business thing seems cleared up by the governor," Bangs said. "She said that she would not impose those restrictions again. So, if we're going to do this about businesses, that would seem to be a colossal waste of our time."
Bangs at one point noted that there are people on the council who profess to Christianity.
"Let me ask, would Jesus turn his back on sick people?" Bangs said as Hensley interrupted to say, "Oh, come on!"
"What would Jesus do in this situation? Would Jesus approve this?" Bangs persisted as he held up a paper copy of the resolution.
Tibbals suggested the comments amounted to a personal attack.
After several interruptions, Bangs concluded his comments, saying, "I think this is horrible. I think it's divisive. If you want to run the state, you should run for state legislature. This doesn't help the city of Canby."
Spoon similarly condemned the document, pointing to the unverified claims, inaccuracies and "vague, inflammatory and ideological language that is purely political feeder and nothing more."
Tibbals vehemently disagreed with Spoon and Bangs as he spoke in support of the resolution.
"It's so easy to say, 'Order more takeout. Do your part.' But we have an opportunity to stand as free Americans against the tyrannical orders that don't make any sense that our governor is doing," Tibbals said.
Hensley also voiced support for the resolution, saying, "Main Street is dying."
Varwig expressed disappointment at councilors' behavior in the meeting, suggesting that with a split board, the problems may not end soon. As for the resolution, he was also in support.
"If wording isn't perfect, I get it," Varwig said. "We want it to say different things. But I think the spirit of this was to support our businesses, and for that reason I'm for it."
Parker sided with Spoon and Bangs in opposition to the resolution.
The vote resulted in a 3-3 tie. Hodson quickly cast the tiebreaker, and the resolution passed 4-3.
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