May 8, 2020 Dena Jensen
It’s time to contact your Whatcom County Council representatives for those who are concerned about our County promoting activities generating more in-person human interactions, potentially in close proximity, that without critical precautions (including proper timing) advised by health experts, can result in a significant surge in COVID-19 cases. The Council voted this week to send a letter to Governor Inslee urging him to open retail businesses not deemed to be essential ahead of the timeline the Governor has outlined that seeks to avoid a potentially unmanageable surge in COVID-19 cases and fatalities.
County Council email addresses: email@example.com firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, KKershne@co.whatcom.wa.us, BElenbaa@co.whatcom.wa.us, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
Council Member Ben Elenbaas’ proposed ordinance sought to open any local retail businesses that sell products in the same categories that big-box stores like Costco and Target might sell – which are open because they sell groceries, hardware or other materials deemed essential by the Governor’s office during the present emergency health crisis, and which just happen to sell other products such as furniture or clothing, as well.
After the proposing of it at their last meeting as an emergency ordinance, which failed, Council had voted to introduce Council Member Elenbaas’ ordinance that week and discuss it at this week’s meeting. The ordinance continued, at that 5/5/20 meeting, to be assessed by the Council’s legal council, Karen Frakes, as illegal and violating the Governors Stay Home Stay Healthy ordinance. It was voted down 5-2 at the meeting this week, however Council Members voted unanimously to support the substance of Council Member Elenbaas’s ordinance, to be sent to the Governor’s office as a letter instead.
Meanwhile, It’s interesting to witness the unfathomable reasoning that Council Member Tyler Byrd put forward as to why he supported the ordinance that would have been illegal in the estimation of legal counsel Karen Frakes. Once again, I remind people that Council Member Byrd had stated in October of last year regarding undocumented immigrants:
“At the end of the day, that’s what it is. It’s, you broke a law. And for us, we, it’s not our place to decide the merits of a law. We don’t get to decide what law is right or what law is wrong. We have to uphold the law that is written, unless we are specifically re-writing that law. And unfortunately in this situation, we’re not rewriting a law. We don’t have the legal capacity to do so.”
Also, before I present his testimony related to Council Member Elenbaas proposed ordinance, I will note that Council Member Byrd had not made any COVID-19 Facebook posts since early April and I don’t see any news articles or public statements of his seeking to educate his community on, “the importance of what’s happening, and… why we’re doing this and the need to continue doing it.”
Here is my transcription of Council Member Byrd’s statement about why he was supporting Council Member Elenbaas’ ordinance which would have violated Governor Inslee’s Stay Home Stay Healthy order:
“This is a tough one for me. As Ben said a second ago, I mean, I champion us being so proactive on this and taking it [COVID-19] seriously, and treating it with, you know, such a high priority and sense of urgency, early on. And I still believe that that’s the case. And I don’t want necessarily to conflict with that. But the difficult part is, is I think that we have failed in communicating with our community, both at a national/state/local level, the importance of what’s happening, and if they understand why we’re doing this and the need to continue doing it. And I think that we’re seeing that right now and that in the uprising and the number of people that are coming back out and wanting to hold protests that are wanting to – they’re coming out and ignoring some of the laws and attending events or getting together.
“I mean, I just had a news article pop up a second ago, in Eastern Washington they’re now having small groups get together and throw COVID parties to get each other sick. I mean, that’s the point they’re at, and that’s how much we have failed in communicating why we don’t want people to spread the virus. It’s now at a point where people are actively trying to do it, just because they think it – they’ll get the antibodies and be able to go off and be good to go and they’re going to prove their point. And unless we can effectively communicate with people and make it very clear why we’re taking these actions so that they understand and they’re supportive with us in those actions, I don’t think that we can continue doing what we’ve been doing.
“And so I’m not going to vote – well, I’m going to vote in favor of this because I don’t see us, at any time soon, being clear about what’s happening and the reasoning for it and the results from it. So, on one hand, and the other big thing is, you know , when I drive down here to get on the calls to my office and I bypass the City of Bellingham’s Public Works team or/and there’s ten guys and gals on the corner doing what looks like a sidewalk project or landscaping, I have a really hard time justifying why it’s okay for those people to stand next to each other and work together in a capacity in which it’s physical and your lifting things and you’re exercising and you’re extruding more air and breathing heavier and we know it’s a situation in which you’re more likely to get sick, and yet you can’t have a retail store where one or two people come in at a time. If we’re going to massage those rules or not adhere to them or find justification for why we can do it but not allow the community to do it, I think that further compounds the issue and makes it more unfair and more difficult for us to enforce.
“As it relates to, this is a law, I understand the law. I understand the legal authority behind it. But I also understand that my job, to me, isn’t about upholding the law, so much as it is the constitution. And I believe this country was founded on freedom and the right to choose to do things and if the Governor or the President or someone else came down here and said hey, you’re not allowed to have children any more and that’s the law, would we all vote to support that? If it was something even more severe than that? And we said you can’t live till, you know, over 40 because there’s too many people on the planet, so at 40 you’re done, would we support that? I don’t know that, I can’t think of anyone that would. And so there’s some moral justification there or criteria, as it relates to what laws we support as well. And to me if we’re not communicating and we’re not adhering to those same laws then we’re not meeting the moral threshold to continue enforcing them, and so it’s not a law I feel we need to – to – vote in favor of at this point in time, necessarily. So Ben, I will support it. I don’t like, necessarily, the impact that it might cause, but I think that the community needs to decide for themself and we need to do a better job of educating them if we want a different reaction.”