City Council ponders gun control stance

Gun control, not a normal city council topic, was joined Monday night on the discussion list with such things as street repairs and appointment of a judge and hiring of a city manager.

“I want to talk about guns,” Mayor Paul Blackburn said near the end of the meeting, asking that council consider making a written statement relating to gun control, in the wake of the Feb. 14 Florida school slaughter and the growing national discussion of the problem of gun violence. Blackburn acknowledged it is not a typical topic and averred that some may feel it is not an appropriate one for that body.

But Blackburn pointed to the positive lobbying impact of council letters on oil and coal trains and carbon pricing. Council approved Blackburn returning at its next meeting, March 12, with a draft letter.

“If I was allowed to rule that no bump stocks be sold in the city, it would be a tiny step, but what if every mayor in America did so? The world would be a better place,” Blackburn said.

Council member Peter Cornelison said he would be in favor of a letter, while councilors Mark Zanmiller and Kate McBride expressed reservations. (Becky Brun and Susan Johnson were absent.) Councilors said they wanted to avoid citing prohibition of specific weapons and focus instead on policy. McBride pointed to repealing the federal prohibition against statistical analysis of gun violence being carried out by the Center for Disease Control.

The group gave Blackburn the go-ahead to study gun control legislation being considered by the Oregon Legislature and to seek guidance from the group Mayors Against Illegal Guns.

“We should ask the state and feds to start treating (violence) as the public health issue it is, rather than getting into the specifics,” said councilor Megan Saunders.

As part of a varied agenda, council heard a budget from Hood River County Administrator Jeff Hecksel, who said he will receive a 2017-18 proposed budget this week that will be certain to contain cuts, given the $1.6 million shortfall expected.

Council members will work with staff on next steps for appointing a municipal court judge, to succeed Will Carey, who died unexpectedly earlier this month, and to hire a city manager to replace Steve Wheeler, who is retiring. Council approved a contract amendment for Wheeler to stay on the job through July, by which time a new manager should be in place.

Council also heard a presentation by Megan Ramey and others of a citizen group planning a September “Open Streets” event, involving closure of a total of 1.6 miles of city streets, mostly on the Heights, for a period of four or more hours. Bike and pedestrian access would take precedence, and other activities and programs would be scheduled, with the goals of health, supporting local businesses, community involvement, and testing long-term ideas for traffic calming methods (planters and street art, for example) as well as potential pedestrian-based changes to public thoroughfares. The matter will come back to the council at its next meeting, March 12.

The group asked for, and received, two hours of scheduled staff time to review the proposal and discuss feasibility in order to present a formal request to council. The group needs to meet March 16 deadline to apply for a grant of $2,000 to $5,000, facilitated by Mid-Columbia Economic Development District, to pay for an estimated $2,500 in street closures and other costs.

Wheeler also announced that starting March 12, open council sessions will be live-streamed to the Internet, courtesy of citizen Scott Scrimshaw.

Internet or cable airing has long been done in cities including The Dalles, Troutdale, and Cascade Locks.

“I think it’s a good idea. There is the potential to help a lot more people know what’s going on,” McBride said.

“It will be interesting on a number of levels, and to see how this impacts us,” said Blackburn, stating that live-streaming in other municipalities “tends to make us (officials) talk longer.”

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