Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum sent a letter Friday threatening legal action against Oregon City Mayor Dan Holladay if he followed through with talk of reopening the city's businesses before Gov. Kate Brown lifts the statewide stay-home order.
"I send this letter in the hope that you will reconsider your approach without the need for more formal action. I remind you that there are significant legal repercussions for violating the governor's order," says the letter, which was obtained by WW. "You do not have the authority to override the governor's executive order.… So, in addition to putting your residents' health at risk, you may be placing them in legal jeopardy."
The letter was first reported on by the Canby Now Podcast. It says Rosenblum would consider both civil and criminal penalties if Holladay authorized the reopening of Oregon City businesses without the governor's permission. (Disclosure: Rosenblum is married to the co-owner of WW's parent company.)
Holladay tells WW he hadn't made any concrete plans to reopen Oregon City businesses, but that he had spoken to business owners and mayors across the state about the prospect of doing so. However, after a mayors' consortium meeting Thursday, Holladay says, he decided he would abide by the governor's stay-home order and that he was caught off guard when, the next day, he received the letter threatening legal action.
"I think it was the nuclear option," Holladay says. "I just think it could have been handled with a phone call or an email."
Oregon City commissioners held a special meeting Sunday in which they rebuked Holladay and reaffirmed their support of Brown's order.
"In addition, the commission clarified that any discussions or meetings held, or directives issued, by a single member of the commission is not the will of the commission or the policy of the city," Oregon City commissioners said in a press release Sunday evening.
Commissioners, as well as Holladay, voted 5-0 in support of the governor's order during Sunday's special meeting.
Holladay tells WW he doesn't intend to undermine the governor's authority. But he personally thinks the state is moving too slowly to reopen businesses.
"If hospitals are going back to work, I'm not sure why it is that restaurants and other small businesses can't be expected to open safely. I don't see the danger that we thought there was four or five weeks ago," Holladay says, adding that he thinks COVID-19 has "run its course" in Oregon.
"And there's only been a handful of cases across the entire country where someone under 18 has gotten sick," he said. "So why are schools still closed? Why are playgrounds closed? Viruses don't do well in the sunshine even in the best of times."
Brown issued the statewide stay-home order March 24, and it appears that Oregon's aggressive measures averted 70,000 COVID-19 infections, new data from the Institute of Disease Modeling in Bellevue, Wash., shows. The modeling warned, however, that loosening social distancing regulations could lead to another spike in cases, as WW previously reported.
Brown has said she'll consider reopening the state in stages, starting in rural counties in the east of the state, where few cases of COVID-19 have been transmitted and sheltering in place is more difficult.
But agitation to reopen businesses is emerging in Clackamas County, which has long been the metro-area county least comfortable with Portland values.
Mayor Stan Pulliam of Sandy told KATU-TV that he is worried about the impact the stay-home order is having on local businesses, and that the decision to reopen should be made by local governments rather than the state.
As of Sunday evening, 2,311 people in Oregon have tested positive for COVID-19, and 91 have died from the virus. More than 200 of those cases, and six deaths, are in Clackamas County.