Resolution 3881, which the Baker City Council passed by a 5-2 vote on Tuesday, March 23, cites the economic and social damage resulting from Oregon Gov. Kate Brown’s executive orders during the pandemic.

Businesses have suffered. So have students. So too some seniors and others who have spent so much of the past year alone. Criminal suspects who normally would have been detained for at least a night or two in the Baker County Jail have instead been cited and released due to limits on occupancy to reduce the risk of the virus spreading in that confined setting. Not all of these resulted directly from Brown’s decisions, but all reflect the atmosphere prevailing in Oregon.

The City Council reasonably questions whether the governor has recognized the vastly different situations between rural areas such as Baker City and, say, the Portland metro area.

The City Council made a similar point earlier this month when it voted to send a letter, written by Councilor Jason Spriet, to the governor chastising her and other state officials for failing to consider the opinions of local officials in setting regulations during the pandemic.

Resolution 3881, however, is a much less focused, and thus flawed, document.

The resolution, drafted by Mayor Kerry McQuisten in consultation with City Manager Jon Cannon and the city’s attorney, rather than focusing solely on Brown’s orders and their harmful effects, and advocating for financial and regulatory relief for struggling businesses, also implies that COVID-19’s danger is exaggerated. The resolution, though it concedes that the virus is contagious, goes on to state that “contagious viruses do exist in the world.”

Indeed they do. But what’s the point of noting the obvious? Has any other virus caused or contributed to the deaths of more than half a million Americans in little more than a year?

The resolution: “COVID-19 is overwhelmingly survivable and lockdowns do not stop its spread.”

The second part of that sentence is a legitimate point, and one that relates directly to the issue of whether Brown’s executive orders have all been necessary. The first part, however defensible statistically, is cold comfort to the loved ones of the 12 Baker County residents who have died after testing positive for the virus. Downplaying the danger of COVID-19 is to be expected in a partisan political screed, but it is wholly inappropriate for a resolution purporting to represent all Baker City residents.

The resolution notes that “our local hospital and health care system are not overwhelmed with COVID cases, and never have been.” This is disingenuous, and another misguided attempt to portray the pandemic as a minor medical issue. County officials have said that most local residents who contracted the virus and needed treatment, including ventilators, have been sent to a Boise hospital. The relatively minor effect COVID-19 has had on the local health care system reflects not that the virus is benign, as the resolution implies, but that it is, for some, dangerous enough to require a higher level of care.

Rather than focusing solely on restrictions the governor has imposed — decisions that have significantly harmed the local economy and residents — the resolution also delves into the issue of face masks. The resolution claims Brown’s “lockdown and masking mandates” — the former having a much more direct, and harmful, effect on businesses — “are actively creating division and unrest with the increased potential of physical violence within our community as those of one opinion are encouraged by it to impose their opinions over the free will of those of another in a physical way ...”

The issue of masks is a divisive one, to be sure. But the resolution offers no evidence of resulting violence except the “potential” for such. Moreover, the resolution, which in an earlier clause states that “we do believe our citizens are fully capable of making their private, individual healthcare and lifestyle decisions themselves” now implies that some of those citizens, due to mask mandates, might not be able to resist the urge to commit physical violence. Unless we’re to believe the only people likely to get rough are those who wear masks and are mad at those who don’t. Which is farcical.

This isn’t the only unclear or inconsistent clause in the resolution. It also states that “we believe in the kindness, compassion and common sense of our citizens and businesses to help protect the most fragile and susceptible in our community.” The overwhelming consensus of medical experts is that wearing face masks, in certain situations, is an effective way to reduce the likelihood of spreading the virus. It’s fair to call mask wearing, to borrow from the resolution, both “common sense” and a way to “protect the most fragile and vulnerable.” Yet the resolution attacks “masking mandates” as being divisive, without acknowledging their medical benefits.

The final “whereas” clause in the resolution features a selection of famous quotes from American founding fathers. This is standard fare, of course, in documents alleging that the government is infringing on citizens’ rights. But the inclusion of Patrick Henry’s “give me liberty or give me death” vow is curious in this context. Do the five councilors who voted for the resolution believe their constituents, including those who have been infected with COVID-19, must choose between total rejection of the governor’s orders, and untimely death? The very traits that the resolution touts in local residents — “compassion” and “kindness” — are the ones that reflect our willingness to take temporary steps, including the trifling matter of occasional mask wearing, to reduce the risk to those for whom this virus is dangerous.

The resolution has a more promising conclusion, in part. It states that the city will support financial reparations for businesses, and back ballot initiatives to limit the governor’s emergency powers. The former, in particular, is vital to economic recovery, and something the Council is right to advocate for.

Yet the final clause is another exaggerated statement that serves no purpose except to inflame. “The City recognizes the citizenry of Baker City are free, sovereign individuals within a Constitutional, Representative Republic, not subjects or slaves, and will be recognized as such as we firmly stand to represent them.”

Invoking slavery in this context not only reflects the hollowness of the argument, but it detracts from the admirable aspects of the resolution.

— Jayson Jacoby, Baker City Herald editor

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