At a special Friday afternoon meeting, the Edmonds City Council voted unanimously to remove the mayor’s ability — during an emergency — to prevent citizens from carrying or possessing firearms.
The controversial subsection G provision, contained in the city’s recently amended disaster preparedness ordinance, had been a flashpoint for Second Amendment advocates and had even drawn a group — led by gubernatorial candidate and tax activist Tim Eyman — to the mostly empty council chambers Tuesday night. (To observe social distancing in light of the COVID-19 outbreak, the council has been meeting remotely, so the only person in the chambers at the time of the group’s appearance was City Clerk Scott Passey.)
Subsection G was among several provisions included in the emergency mayoral powers amendment approved by the council during a special meeting called by Mayor Mike Nelson Sunday, March 22. The subsection would have allowed the mayor — or any future mayors — to prohibit the carrying or possession of firearms “or any instrument which is capable of producing bodily harm and which is carried or possessed with intent to use the same to cause such harm.”
Nelson called the special council meeting on Friday specifically to request the council pass a new ordinance removing subsection G, and also to consider temporarily lifting the city’s ban on light-gauge plastic bags in light of the COVID-10 epidemic.
Before taking a vote on removing subsection G, there was robust council discussion about the amendment itself and how the council should proceed. First, Councilmember Kristiana Johnson raised a point of order and asked for a motion to reconsider the vote taken last Sunday, March 22 rather than to adopt a new ordinance. City Attorney Jeff Taraday replied that reconsideration was only appropriate during the same meeting at which the action was taken. Johnson replied that wasn’t true under Roberts Rules of Order, but Taraday said the council’s practice has been to allow reconsideration votes only during the same meeting.
Then Councilmember Diane Buckshnis weighed in, stating Taraday was incorrect and adding that the council has in the past handle the reconsideration of votes both ways.
Mayor Mike Nelson then denied Johnson’s point of order and Council President Adrienne Fraley-Monillas went on to move the ordinance — to amend the city’s Disaster Preparation and Coordination ordinance to remove subsection G regarding the mayor’s authority prohibiting the carrying or possession of firearms.
During discussion regarding the motion, Buckshnis asked the city attorney whether, in light of Gov. Jay Inslee’s stay-at-home order issued March 23, the council could repeal the entire Disaster Preparation and Coordination ordinance “because a lot of people believe this is martial law enforcement.” Citizens have expressed concerns that other emergency procedures outlined in the city’s comprehensive plan aren’t being followed under the ordinance, which the council voted March 22 to amend, Buckshnis said.
Taraday said the council can always repeal an ordinance but couldn’t do so on Friday because it wasn’t on the agenda. Friday’s action only deals with subsection G related to the possession and carrying of firearms, he added.
“People need to realize we’ve just given the mayor martial law powers, and Tuesday we weren’t allowed to talk about it,” Buckshnis said, referring to frustrations expressed by some councilmembers that they had been told they could review and ratify Sunday’s emergency ordinance at the Tuesday, March 24 council meeting — but then that matter wasn’t on the agenda.
At the time of that discussion Tuesday night, Taraday said that he wanted more time to provide legal analysis of citizen concerns raised by the emergency ordinance. In response, Councilmember Susan Paine moved that Taraday be given four to six weeks to present an analysis, a motion that was approved.
On Friday afternoon, Paine reiterated that the idea behind her approved motion Tuesday night was to ensure the entire disaster preparedness ordinance “could have a more comprehensive and thoughtful review, including public comment.”
In the end, the council voted unanimously to remove Subsection G from the ordinance.
Regarding the plastic bag ban, City Attorney Taraday explained that the city had been contacted by grocery store chain representatives with two concerns about the use of reusable grocery bags during the COVID-19 outbreak. First, there’s a shortage of in-store paper bags because so many people are buying large quantities of groceries to ensure their kitchen are well stocked during the pandemic. And second, grocery clerks are worried “they may be exposing themselves unnecessarily to the virus if they are dealing with bags that are brought from people’s homes,” Taraday said.
Originally, the ban was suggested for 90 days but Fraley-Monillas proposed an amendment reducing that ban to 60 days based on feedback that the shorter time frame would allow stores to again acquire an inventory of bags. That amendment passed unanimously.
During the discussion on the main motion — to approve temporarily lifting the ban — Councilmember Paine said she couldn’t support the measure, noting that “adding plastics to our waste stream is very problematic, it just ends up in our water and then the animals that ingest them.”
Instead, Paine said, people shouldn’t be stockpiling or hoarding food, and officials should be working on changing behavior instead.
Councilmember Luke Distelhorst agreed with Paine, adding he would like to see creation of procedures that address limiting the exposure of grocery workers in the first place. “I would really be worried about getting into a pattern of bringing back single-use plastic bags into our system,” he said.
The council voted 4-3 to temporarily lift the bag ban, with Councilmembers Distelhorst, Buckshnis and Paine voting no.
— By Teresa Wippel