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Woodland mayor, citing reopening progress, rejects council resolution

LONGVIEW — Woodland Mayor Will Finn said Thursday he won’t follow through on the City Council’s resolution Monday to declare Woodland a “sanctuary city” from Gov. Jay Inslee’s COVID-19 stay-home orders because the city is making good progress on reopening.

Essentially, “they’re a month late,” Finn said: “The city is already open, and we’re feeling the positive effects of that. We’re well into Phase 2, and this (resolution) would not benefit the city in any way.”

“I support them, (and) we are a team,” Finn said of the council. “I agree with the sentiment they were trying to send.”

The council passed the resolution in a 4-3 vote Monday. It asks Finn to declare Woodland a “sanctuary city” from the governor’s stay-home orders and to tell city officials, including police, that they aren’t required to enforce limits on business operations or gatherings.

Though the resolution passed, it appears it won’t have any effect because Finn has declined to uphold it. Even were he to sign it, the resolution only asks that the enforcement of the order is treated as “not mandatory,” and police chief Jim Kelly says the department has not been out looking for social-distancing-violators.

“Our stance has always been to inform and educate and not take an active role in any type of enforcement,” Kelly said.

Officers haven’t ruled out enforcing the orders if they needed to, Kelly said. But their approach has been “about taking the least amount of enforcement (required) to help folks through this difficult time. And the least amount of enforcement is to educate and let people know … these are the reasons we’re trying to prevent large gatherings.”

Finn said he also worried the resolution could confuse business owners, who might interpret it as license to disregard the governor’s order. That could lead to businesses being fined or prosecuted by the state, Finn said.

According to the resolution, Inslee’s orders have “caused undue hardship and financial loss to many small businesses, some of whom will never recover” from the financial strain of paying rent, taxes and other bills without a stable source of revenue. It also raised the concern that enforcing “potentially unconstitutional state laws” such as the stay-home order could open the city up to liability in a time when its own finances are spread thin.

DeeAnna Holland, a council member who opposed the resolution, and Finn both described the resolution as “political posturing” against the governor’s office.

Finn is running against incumbent Arne Mortensen this fall for the Cowlitz County commissioner District 1 seat. Both have publicly asked the governor to hasten Cowlitz County’s opening process, though Mortensen has been more vociferous in his rhetoric.

Finn in early May asked the commissioners to petition the state to allow Cowlitz County to open sooner than the rest of the state. Commissioners had already passed a resolution a month earlier asking Inslee to lift certain restrictions, and in late May they passed a resolution proposed by Mortensen that found citizens are “being injured emotionally, economically and spiritually by arbitrary and capricious mandates” the state has imposed to stop the spread of coronavirus.

“The people of our state and our city have suffered enough,” Woodland City Council member Dave Plaza, who introduced the legislation, said on Monday. “If liquor stores, pot stores, grocery stores and other places where large groups of people gather can be open, there’s no reason smaller businesses that see a fraction of the number of people per day can’t open as well.”

Inslee’s initial “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order expired Midnight on Sunday, essentially the same day the council passed the resolution, and was replaced with “Safe Start,” which is aimed at defining the path to reopening and creating flexibility for smaller counties to do so more quickly.

The resolution does name the “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order, but it is worded to apply to any “potentially unconstitutional” orders from the governor.

It asked Finn to instruct city officials that enforcement of Inslee’s orders against businesses operating or people congregating is not mandatory, except for educational purposes, until the court system has better defined the legality of the orders.

Holland said Thursday that she opposed the resolution in large part because she believed it was too vague to make any actual change, and she doesn’t want the issue to become a political sideshow that overshadows the city’s other concerns.

“Our City Council has bigger things to worry about,” Holland said. “There’s bigger fish to fry for the City of Woodland.”

Holland said she’s also seen some on social media talk about visiting Woodland as a show of support for taking a stand against the Governor’s order, which could end up hurting the city’s progress in re-opening.

“No, don’t come to Woodland, just don’t,” she said. “We’re on the tail end of this. A lot of people in our community have worked really hard to stay home. … I too have a business that went through this. I stopped counting after I lost 50-grand in revenue. I couldn’t look at it anymore.”

According to Finn and other officials, the city has only had two enforcement incidents related to the Governor’s order so far. Both involved non-residents who were arrested on non-COVID-19 related charges. Officers in those cases recommended additional counts of violating the governor’s order to the prosecutor’s office.

Finn said he was also concerned the resolution overstepped his role in telling the city police department what to do.

“I don’t tell the Chief how to run his department, and I don’t tell the Clerk-Treasurer how to run their department.”


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