Commotion over a potential “medical freedom” ordinance affecting public spaces, city buildings and city employees in Battle Ground has led to official condemnation from the Clark County Republican Party after demonstrators rallied in front of Mayor Adrian Cortes’ house on Sept. 19.
During Battle Ground City Council’s Sept. 20 meeting, Clark County Republican Party Treasurer Greg Cheney read a statement signed by party officials within the county who “strongly condemn(ed)” the protest in front of Cortes’ home the day prior.
“No officeholder should be subject to large crowds gathering in front of their home,” Cheney read.
The protest brought dozens of people to street corners near Cortes’ home where demonstrators showed their support for the ordinance under consideration at the council meeting.
Cheney acknowledged that sharing opinions with those in office is integral to the democratic process, but he said “doing so in a manner that creates fear and anxiety in their family members is not acceptable.”
“Demonstrating at a public officeholder’s private home, causing his family to be caught in the crosshairs of a protest, are not family values,” Cheney read.
He noted the party opposed similar demonstrations on the other side of the political spectrum, mentioning antifa specifically.
Understanding the concerns over mandates throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the county GOP urged individuals to focus their energy on state elected offices, instead of “focusing on local officeholders who have no power to override Gov. Inslee’s orders,” Cheney read.
Following the statement, Cheney, who is an attorney, made personal statements questioning the motive and effects of the ordinance.
“There is nothing conservative about asking a government of any level to invent a power that does not exist. That is the antithesis of limited government,” Cheney said.
Cheney added defending the ordinance would go against fiscal prudence since it could potentially put the city’s state and federal funding in jeopardy. He mentioned the improvements at the Main Street and state Route 503 intersection as an example.
Cheney was among several others who spoke about the ordinance during the public comment portion of the meeting.
If approved, the draft ordinance would prohibit the city from mandating vaccinations for city employees, contractors and volunteers with the city. The ordinance also prohibits requirements on facial coverings or social distancing in public spaces and buildings, and also prohibits the city from requiring proof of vaccination within city limits.
Public comment included those for and against the ordinance, though slightly more spoke in opposition. Some of the speakers said they would avoid conducting business in the city if it passed. The ordinance as presented wouldn’t prohibit private establishments from enforcing their own requirements, councilor Shane Bowman mentioned.
“I’m hearing and seeing a lot of different things out there, that people think this is going to apply to businesses in the city,” Bowman said. “This only applies to the city as an entity.”
The ordinance was initially brought up for discussion during the council’s Sept. 7 meeting. Another group of ordinance supporters rallied in front of Battle Ground City Hall prior to the meeting. Munson was asked to come back with a draft ordinance, which took issue with Gov. Jay Inslee’s power to enforce vaccine and masking mandates in the state.
“I don’t see where in the state constitution that the governor has the ability to take his mandates and supersede and pre-empt what we do,” Munson said.
Battle Ground City Manager Erin Erdman said there had been discussions that questioned whether the council had the power to set requirements for city administrative staff. Munson said he felt the decision would land within the council’s authority based on a bill that was introduced, but not passed, in the Washington State Legislature’s session this year. The bill would have prohibited government entities from requiring proof of vaccination in a public place.
Erdman said the city had only asked for proof of vaccination under a prior version of state guidelines which at the time allowed employees to forgo masks if they were fully vaccinated. Regarding legal impacts, she said the Washington Cities Insurance Authority would not cover the city’s liability insurance if the ordinance is approved.
“We would be on our own individually and as a city at this point,” Erdman said.
Toward the end of the meeting, the council adjourned into an executive session to address the legal ramifications of the ordinance, which Munson and councilor Shauna Walters voted against. Following the closed-door session, Deputy Mayor Philip Johnson moved to select a lawyer to advise council on the ordinance. Munson then moved for an amendment that stated the lawyer could have "no intrinsic ties to any one specific council member” to avoid a conflict of interest. Both the motion and amendment passed unanimously.
The “medical freedom” ordinance will now be considered by the council at its Oct. 4 meeting.
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