Clackamas County Mayors to Governor: Your Reopening Timeline is Too Slow

Canby Mayor Brian Hodson, along with the mayors of Oregon City, Molalla, Sandy and Gladstone, called on Governor Kate Brown this week to either dramatically accelerate her plans for allowing smaller, more rural and less impacted cities to reopen for business — or allow them to draft and implement their own.

The five Clackamas County mayors announced their shared position during a virtual press conference Tuesday afternoon.

“I just implore the governor to either give us a plan and let us open, or tell the cities to establish their own plans,” said Oregon City Mayor Dan Holladay, who has been voicing his opposition to the governor’s stay-home order — mainly, for the devastating impact it has had on local businesses and working families — for weeks now.

The mayors said they have heard little from the governor’s office in terms of concrete plans or a timeline for reopening. She said last week that even the most rural and unaffected areas would not be able to begin the process of reopening until at least May 15.

“We have been asking our questions about what a reopening plan is going to look like, and we have yet to see anything,” said Sandy Mayor Stan Pulliam. “We have yet to see pen to paper. We have seen a lot of rhetoric.”

Mayor Pulliam said his reading of the tea leaves suggests that for cities in Clackamas County — one of three counties that form the Portland Metro region but which also has many smaller cities and vast rural areas — the go-ahead for reopening will come in “mid- to late summer, at the earliest.”

Canby Mayor Brian Hodson, who has typically expressed his support for residents and business owners following the stay-home orders to “flatten the curve” and facilitate a faster reopening, appeared frustrated this week.

“I think we’re at a point where we have flattened the curve for a week or more now,” he said. “We’ve gotten past what was supposed to be the peak period of the virus. I think we’ve got a good trajectory. It’s time we put forth the effort and put forth a plan to get things open.”

Mayor Hodson described his approach to reopening as “cautious, and optimistic.”

“Our small businesses on Main Street, even the ones that are open or open on a limited basis, are barely surviving,” he said. “We need to have a plan and put forth some encouragement to show there is a light at the end of the tunnel. … We need to see some concrete plans with deadlines and dates, much sooner than the ones the governor has put out.”

Asked by a reporter what he thought of the Canby diner that fully opened this weekend in violation of the governor’s orders, he admitted to being “conflicted.”

“I don’t know if I disagree with it or agree with it,” he said. “I understand where he’s at. There are many businesses in Canby that are feeling that way, and I hope that other businesses see what occurred and maybe learn from it.”

In terms of defying the governor’s orders, he said, “we have no intention of doing that.”

“We want to educate our businesses to make sure they’re holding to that right now, and that’s what we did,” he said.

Mayor Holladay, of Oregon City, who was participating from Ultimate Team Spirit, the business he helps run in downtown Canby that is located within spitting distance of Pappy’s front door, also responded to the question.

“This country has a long history of civil disobedience in order to change public policy,” he said. “And I believe, if the governor does not … give us a plan, quickly, this is going to start to happen all over the state. And at some point, state government won’t be able to control it anymore.”

Holladay has also previously expressed concerns about the constitutionality of prohibiting people from worshiping as they choose. While churches were not explicitly closed under the governor’s orders, most sanctuaries have been shuttered anyway because of the ban on any gatherings larger than 10 people.

On Tuesday, Holladay called on churches to lead the charge.

“We don’t have two weeks,” Holladay said. “We don’t have a month. We need to get this going as soon as possible. And so I’m calling on our communities of faith, our churches. You have the ultimate First Amendment right. Step up. Open your doors. Go back to worship. That’ll set the example for the rest of the state.”

Molalla Mayor Keith Swigart, who has also been vocal, said common sense dictates a faster approach. He said he has been asking for four to six weeks why rural cities can’t develop plans for allowing shuttered businesses to reopen, following guidelines similar to the ones that have been put in place for grocery stores, liquor stores and other retailers.

“Why can’t we work within all these parameters that have been established to come out with a plan to allow our businesses to reopen?” he asked. “Everything keeps getting pushed forward. In Molalla, we … have a lot of hardships. We have businesses that will probably not open again. They’re done. Things need to change.”

None of the mayors said they plan to defy the governor’s orders if she doesn’t move faster. They are just asking for a “little more control,” Mayor Swigart said, the ability to submit plans for review, and implement them once they are approved.

“We just want to be able to show the state, the county, someone: ‘Here is our plan. Here’s what we have thoughtfully put together, with businesses, with [city] councils, with our first responders, with our police department, everybody,'” he said. “We just want a chance to move this forward. We don’t have time to wait much longer.”

In Oregon Health Authority’s latest weekly report Tuesday, which for the first time included case counts by ZIP code, identified 24 cases of Covid-19 linked to the ZIP code for Canby — approximately 0.1 percent of the population — and one death.

Molalla’s count was slightly higher, at 27 cases, or 0.18 percent, while Oregon City’s was much lower: 22 cases, which represents only .04 percent of their population.

By way of comparison, one of the highest counts in the state is in the Woodburn ZIP code, where they have seen 155 cases. The incident rate there is more than five times that of Canby: 53.8 cases per 10,000 people, or .5 percent of the population.

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