City Manager Fred Warner Jr. said Wednesday morning that he regretted rushing an excessive use of force policy for the police department on to the agenda for Tuesday night’s City Council meeting.
The late addition to the agenda prompted concern from some councilors and led to a decision to delay policy approval until more public comment could be solicited.
The brief policy was not proposed by the city.
It is required by administrators of a $1.5 million federal Community Development Block Grant awarded to New Directions Northwest to build a Wellness Center for clients that will be adjacent to the mental health agency’s new office building at 13th and K streets.
If the council does not approve the policy, which Warner said dates to 1990 with changes made in 1996, the grant for the New Directions Wellness Center could not move forward.
The two-paragraph, 64-word policy is aimed at ensuring that the city’s police officers do not use excessive force against people participating in nonviolent civil rights demonstrations. The policy left the councilors divided, and led them to postpone a decision Tuesday.
The policy states:
“It is the policy of the City of Baker City that
1. Its law enforcement personnel shall not use excessive force against any individuals engaged in nonviolent civil rights demonstrations, and
2. Applicable state and local laws that prohibit physically barring entrance to or exit from a facility or location which is the subject of such nonviolent civil rights demonstrations within its jurisdiction shall be enforced.”
Councilor Doni Bruland was the first to speak against accepting the policy.
“I am adamantly opposed to this policy,” Bruland said. “I do not believe a state bureaucratic agency should dictate to a community what laws or policies we need to do.”
She said that all of the two dozen people she had talked to about the policy earlier Tuesday were opposed to it.
Bruland called the requirement to place the proposed wording in Baker City’s policies regarding conduct of its police department as being “close to extortion — if you don’t do this you do not get your money.”
Bruland cited ongoing demonstrations in Portland over the past five months to make her point.
“We have honestly seen what they consider nonviolent protest in Portland and I do not want Portland in Baker City,” she said. “This is huge and needs to either be taken up with the full community that knows that it’s coming on the agenda ... or we need to turn it down now. And I’d prefer we turn it down now.”
Councilor Lynette Perry agreed with Bruland.
“This terrifies me,” Perry said. “Our state laws are changing on a dime and I’m really in fear that if we pass this we would really be putting our populace in danger.”
Police Chief Ray Duman told the council, however, that in his view the policy would not affect the way his officers do their jobs.
“We are there to enforce the laws uniformly,” Duman said. “We took an oath to uphold the laws of the State of Oregon and so that’s what we’re governed by.
“To me this is more of a language — and granted it might be forced upon us — but it doesn’t change the way the police in this community would handle any event,” he said.
Perry said she supports the police department, but she is concerned about the state being involved in setting city policies.
“I want to support the police department,” she said. “I want you to have the ability to do what you need to do and I want the citizens of our community to be safe and I just think that when we tie into some of the mentality of the state, we’re opening ourselves up to danger.”
Bruland’s motion to postpone a decision on the policy was approved by a 4-3 vote. Bruland, Perry and councilors Arvid Andersen and Larry Morrison voted in favor of the postponement. Mayor Loran Joseph and councilors Randy Schiewe and Jason Spriet were opposed.
“I think we have time to allow the public to weigh in on this,” Warner said. “We’ll put together a much better packet and talk, hopefully at the next meeting.
“If this is the only thing that holds up that million-dollar grant to help our most vulnerable population that would be unfortunate,” he said.
In other business Tuesday, the Council agreed to seek more community involvement in its continuing discussion of the best way to enforce the city’s property maintenance ordinance, and in particular properties that have been identified as violating the ordinance.
Of the six possible solutions presented for their consideration, councilors found that the most palatable would be to form a committee to look at the underlying issues that result in nuisance complaints.
“There are just not a lot of easy answers in this realm,” Duman told the council. “It’s going to take more than a code enforcement officer and the abatement process.”
Duman said there are many reasons for accumulation of garbage and lack of care for problem properties.
They range from drug and alcohol addiction and mental illness to the belief by some residents that they can do whatever they want with their private property.
The city has worked with some people to provide a Dumpster for their use if they agree to do the necessary cleanup, he said.
Other property owners have been offered help multiple times and continue to be a problem, he said.
In some cases the residents cannot afford to do the cleanup on their own or in the case of others, their health doesn’t allow them to do the work needed to bring their property into compliance with city ordinances.
“This is a community issue and it’s going to take a community solution,” Duman said.
Members of the committee will include representatives of City Council, the police department, justice court, the district attorney’s office, community residents, mental health and alcohol and drug services, the school district, the Department of Human Services and other groups and organizations.
“I think it would be a good conversation for the community to have,” Duman said Wednesday.
In other business, the Council:
• Approved a 5-year lease agreement for management of the city-owned Quail Ridge Golf Course at 2801 Indiana Ave. with Quail Ridge Golf Management.
The agreement calls for the managers to pay the city $5,500 per year for the first 5 years of the lease, with the amount to increase every 5 years, beginning Jan. 1, 2026.