Ward 8 Councilor Mark Page was in a bit of a pickle Monday night.
The council was voting on a second reading of an ordinance that would prohibit new tobacco retailers from locating within 1,000 feet of a school or within 1,000 feet of another tobacco retailer.
Page voted no on the first reading Feb. 21, noting the role of parents to instill the message of the dangers of tobacco to their children.
In round two Page and other councilors tried to remove the retailer vs. retailer portion, partly because they felt that it was an unnecessary constraint on businesses and individual choice … and partly because councilors are concerned about the possibility of a grocery store being built in South Corvallis.
South Corvallis residents have long complained about their lack of a full-service grocery store and because there are two stores already in South Corvallis that sell tobacco the ordinance would all but shut the door on a large grocery story.
An amendment championed by Hyatt Lytle, whose Ward 3 includes South Corvallis, would have tweaked the ordinance to provide an exemption for large grocery stores, but it was defeated. Some councilors wanted to keep working on possible amendment language that would address the South Corvallis issue.
Then, Ward 9’s Hal Brauner, who understands council policies better than anyone in the group, noted that an ordinance can be amended or updated at any council meeting and suggested councilors pass it as is and discuss in more depth and detail later how to amend it.
So they voted unanimously to pass the ordinance. Or so it seemed. But Mayor Biff Traber noted that Page had not audibly “ayed” during the voice vote and encouraged him to make his vote clear orally.
Page said he preferred not to vote. Traber said he really wanted him to vote. And Page, after a bit of hesitation, ultimately voted yes.
The exchange made me curious. Is there something in the city charter or council polices that requires a vote? Why can’t a councilor abstain or vote “present” as sometimes occurs in legislative actions?
So I went to the source, City Attorney Jim Brewer. Here is his response:
It’s not a charter provision. And it doesn’t really prevent someone from abstaining. I would describe it as strong encouragement to vote. The Municipal Code adopts the second edition of the Standard Code of Parliamentary Procedure by Alice Sturgis. There is an appendix for governmental boards, councils, commissions and committees. While it doesn’t prohibit abstentions or refraining from voting, its guidance is that “the members of such bodies are under a strong obligation to vote on all motions, because decision-making is one of the primary discretionary duties of the office to which they were elected or appointed. A public officer should refrain from voting only when there is a conflict between personal interest and the interest of the body. “
Well, no you — and I — know!