Oregon City commissioners held an emergency meeting Sunday afternoon, where they repudiated comments by Mayor Dan Holladay suggesting he might issue a declaration allowing businesses to reopen in violation of Governor Kate Brown’s stay-home order.
The emergency session was called to address a letter sent to the city Friday afternoon by Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum, threatening “significant legal repercussions,” including civil penalties and criminal prosecution, if the mayor gave Oregon City businesses the go-ahead to reopen without the governor’s permission.
Mayor Holladay admitted he had discussed “some options” with other mayors in the Portland metro area, as well as business owners and residents in Canby and Oregon City, but said he had made no decisions on the matter.
In the meeting, commissioners rebuked Holladay for comments they felt were out of line, and reaffirmed their support for and compliance with the governor’s executive orders designed to stem the spread of Covid-19.
“I’m extremely disappointed in the mayor’s actions from the last few days, and I think there are other people that feel the same way,” said Commissioner Rocky Smith. “I have served as a city commissioner for close to a decade, and I have never seen a mayor take any action that has reached the level that this letter from the attorney general points out.”
The mayor disputed that characterization — pointing out that he had taken no action. Commissioner Smith responded by saying he did not have the authority to take action even if he wanted to — not without the support of the rest of the commission.
“And as far as I know, he does not have that support and never has had that support,” Smith said.
Commission President Rachel Lyles Smith said she does not believe the attorney general’s letter was personal.
“I think the attorney general would send a similar letter to any city in the state of Oregon who threatened to take action in clear defiance of the governor’s executive order,” she said.
Regarding the mayor’s comments, Lyles Smith said she does not have a problem with “someone questioning the policies of our government.”
“That is the right and duty of citizens of the United States and the state of Oregon,” she said. “However, I believe that the process that the mayor chose to challenge that policy has not been in the best interests of our city.”
If Holladay wanted to challenge the constitutionality of the governor’s executive order, he should have clearly delineated that he was doing so as a private citizen and not as the mayor of Oregon City, commissioners said. Making his views as mayor so public, they said, has created an “uncomfortable situation” for city staff, including City Manager Tony Konkol and the Oregon City Police Department
Commissioners, including Mayor Holladay, ultimately voted unanimously to support the governor’s order at the end of Sunday’s special meeting.
“The Commissioners unanimously agreed that the measures identified in the Governor’s Executive Order will remain in effect until lifted as part of a comprehensive plan to reopen the economy in coordination with Federal, State, and Local agencies,” a press release from commissioners Sunday afternoon said. “At no time did the City Commission consider issuing a directive to open businesses or facilities within the City in defiance of the Governor’s Executive Orders.”
The release calls the governor’s strict social distancing guidelines and restrictions on businesses “necessary,” and credits them for “Oregon having one of the lowest rates of COVID-19 infection and deaths in the country.”
Even so, they recognized the “tremendous economic impact” the rules have had on small business owners and workers in Oregon City and across the state. They said the commission is considering a $200,000 small business relief program on Monday that would provide up to $3,000 in grant funding to eligible small businesses to provide financial assistance during the pandemic.
“The City Commissioners fully appreciate the difficulties the community is experiencing and that the tremendous sacrifices that are being made have had a positive impact on reducing the spread of COVID-19, though more work is needed before the existing safeguards are reduced,” the statement from commissioners concludes. “Therefore, the City Commission recommends that the citizens and businesses of Oregon City continue to follow the State’s orders to stay home and save lives.”
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