Licenses issued ‘with modifications or amendments’
by Randy Parks
After two meetings to listen to public input, the Burns City Council voted to issue business licenses, with modifications or amendments, to two individuals to operate medical marijuana dispensaries.
The council approved the licenses at its meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 10, by a 3-1 vote. Councilors Boyce LaForest, Terri Presley and Nona Popham voted yes, and Jerry Woodfin cast the lone nay vote. Mayor Craig LaFollette and Councilor Dan Hoke were excused from the meeting, and Linc Reed-Nickerson submitted his resignation from the council earlier in the day.
Before the vote, City Manager (CM) Kraig Cutsforth said the councilors had several choices to look at. He said they could modify the ordinance to allow the licenses with conditions; they could do nothing with the ordinance and deny the licenses, and then defend the decision in court; they could remove “federal” from the ordinance; or they could write a new section of the ordinance.
“It’s your decision,” Cutsforth said.
LaForest stated that it was not a “black and white issue,” or a matter of being for or against a dispensary. He said he did a lot of research and listened to both sides before reaching his decision. Factored into his decision was the cost of litigation should the council deny the licenses, public opinion, and the small chance of the federal government getting involved in legal issues.
The council approved the motion to grant the business licenses pending business license ordinance modifications, saying the modifications would allow the council to have more control.
During the citizens concerns portion of the meeting, several folks wanted to know why the city didn’t place a moratorium on dispensaries to allow more time to delve into the issue.
Bev LaFollette stated that, although she doesn’t live in Burns, she does have a business in town and she has concerns about where the dispensaries may be located.
Dave Smerski asked if the city had insurance for litigation, and Cutsforth told him it did not, and funds to fight litigation would have to come out of reserves.
Rob Paramore said he owns a business in Burns, and he wasn’t happy with the council’s decision. “You put the concern of a lawsuit over the concerns of citizens,” he said.
Grant Gunderson told the council he was disappointed in the council’s decision and the unintended consequences that may come from it.
Mark Christie said he was in law enforcement for three decades and called the decision a “travesty.” He added that the decision has negatively affected the livability of the community. “I feel bad for the officers in the city and county. You better start hiring more police officers to deal with the situation you created here tonight,” he said.
LaForest told the audience that litigation was not the only or primary factor in the decision. “It makes us less liable and gives us more control,” La Forest said.
Popham said she heard from citizens on both sides of the issue and that made for a difficult decision. “We can control it by modifying the ordinance, and there are people here who wanted it,” she said.
The council agreed to hold a public meeting to discuss what modifications will be made to the business license ordinance before issuing the licenses.
At the start of the meeting, Presley, who was acting chairman, read the letter of resignation from Reed-Nickerson. It stated that he would be taking an extended vacation, beginning Oct. 30, and the resignation was effective immediately.
Questions regarding Reed-Nickerson’s status as a Burns resident also came up during the citizens concerns.
LaFollette said Reed-Nickerson had told her that her opinion on the dispensary didn’t matter because she wasn’t a resident of Burns, so she looked into his residency and found he hadn’t lived within the city limits for about a year.
Paramore stated that Reed-Nickerson hadn’t lived in Burns since last October. “Why is he still on the council? he asked. “That upsets me. He’s been able to make decisions without living in Burns. I donated my services for four years, doing high school sports on the radio for zero compensation, and for him to say we have no say upsets me.”
Gunderson said he was appalled that a councilor lied about his residency and falsified information.
At the Aug. 27 meeting, the council tabled a decision on whether to allow Megan Deiter to keep a horse on her 1/2-acre lot on East E Street, and discussed it again at the Sept. 10 meeting.
Cutsforth said the horse is considered a comfort animal and not a service animal, which doesn’t allow for any special circumstances in making a decision.
Cutsforth stated he read over the city’s ordinance regulating livestock several times, and spoke with a person who was on the council at the time it was approved to find out the intent. The ordinance was implemented Jan. 1, 1998, with the intent to diminish keeping of livestock in the city. Cutsforth said no livestock permit had been issued since then, and he recommended not issuing a permit.
LaForest stated that the council would not be in violation of the ordinance if they did issue a new permit.
“But you’d be opening a floodgate,” Cutsforth said.
After some discussion, LaForest made a motion to “open the floodgate and allow Megan Deiter to keep the horse on her property.”
The motion passed 3-1, with Woodfin voting against.
In other business:
• Officer Robbie Tiller reported the police department was looking into the possibility of adding a canine unit. The council asked the department to come up with a cost analysis and other statistics and make a presentation to the council;
• Cutsforth stated the fire suppression system was completed at Burns airport, which should allow the moratorium to be lifted. He added that he met with FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) officials regarding the flood plain issue. He said that it’s a slow process, but the base flood elevation (BFE) should be established soon. “It’s probably not as much a decrease as we would like,” he said.
Cutsforth was also to meet with Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) officials to discuss the city exceeding the particulate matter for air quality. If the city exceeds the maximum too often, DEQ may ban all burning in the city, including burn barrels and wood stoves. A committee will be formed to develop a plan.
The next council meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 24.