TOLEDO — As far as the Toledo City Council is concerned, it will be left up to individual city employees whether or not to get vaccinated for the COVID-19 virus, with the council passing a resolution Wednesday stating so and declaring Toledo a “sanctuary” from any “unconstitutional” vaccine mandates.
That declaration could be considered mostly symbolic, however, as the resolution only officially reaffirms the council’s previously stated stance that it does have any legal authority to attempt to enforce any sort of vaccination mandate, even on the state or federal government’s behalf.
Toledo Mayor Rod Cross was the one to bring the resolution before the council during its Sept. 16 meeting, where it was passed unanimously after discussion.
“If you read through this, it says what we’re trying to convey. We would really, really like you to mask up, especially indoors, and we’d like everyone to get a vaccination, but as far as the city and its employees are concerned, we will not mandate vaccinations,” Cross said. “The reason being because there is no precedent in constitutional law, state constitutional law or our city charter that would give us that authority.”
The resolution itself acknowledges that the use of face masks and voluntary vaccinations have helped slow the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic over the last year, but it goes on to state, as Cross argued, that neither the U.S. Constitution, Oregon State Constitution or City of Toledo Charter would give the city any right to require employees to get a vaccine.
To that end, the four-part resolution declares the city of Toledo to be a “sanctuary from all unconstitutional vaccination laws,” and allows city staff to “exempt themselves from a vaccine mandate based on medical and religious reasons.” The resolution explicitly states it does not instruct staff to defy any “valid” law stating otherwise, however.
The resolution comes not long after President Joe Biden issued a large-scale vaccination mandate for federal employees and companies with more than 100 employees. The mandate, issued Sept. 9, will require those individuals to be vaccinated and is expected to affect over 100 million Americans.
According to city staff, Toledo has around 44 official staff members and possibly up to 80 depending on whether insured volunteers are considered employees in this instance.
“In my reading of the law, though I am not an attorney, I want to put that up front, we have always offered waivers for people not to get vaccinations,” Cross said. “That could be for religious reasons, medical reasons and in case of the yellow fever, you could choose to forgo it because of your age. I’ve been trying to wrap my head around the legal mandate they are using now.”
The resolution was first discussed by the council when City Attorney David Robinson noted during the council’s Sept. 1 meeting that some cities in Oregon had taken to declaring themselves “sanctuary cities” regarding any potentially mandated vaccination laws.
The term “sanctuary city” is sometimes associated with the practice of U.S. cities making a policy declaration to legally not cooperate with state or federal enforcement actions for certain laws, such as those regarding gun control or immigration, for example.
Robinson warned during that meeting that such an action would not be advisable for Toledo because he believed if done incorrectly it could violate the city’s policy agreement with its insurance agent.
Cross said early into the meeting that he ran the wording of the resolution past the city attorney, the city’s insurance provider and the League of Oregon Cities to ensure it would be acceptable to meet any criteria the insurance provider might have.
Councilor Rob Duprau was critical of part of the resolution’s language that supported wearing masks and suggested it be removed, but otherwise supported the resolution.
“I think that we’re going to allow people to choose for themselves whether to get the vaccine is outstanding,” Duprau said.
City Manager Judy Richter was also in support of the resolution but said the Oregon Health Authority is currently mandating emergency medical service personnel to be vaccinated and was unsure how to approach that situation for Toledo staff given the resolution.
Cross advised Richter and other city staff to defer to the local union for guidance, but input from city staff suggested that would be easier said than done, with emergency services like police and firefighters unable to agree on local, state and national levels whether to push vaccinations.
With that in mind, Cross asked Richter to forward him any correspondence regarding vaccinations so that they could work together to address them, noting that it was “a hill I am prepared to die on.”
Other notable items from the meeting:
• Reba Lovelady of 15Neighborhoods gave a presentation of the upcoming ballot measure that would limit vacation rentals in the unincorporated parts of Lincoln County.
• The council moved the date of its upcoming town hall from Sept. 18 to Oct. 16.
• The council approved a $82,100 expenditure of to perform liner installation for 24 manholes in the city.
• The council approved a $280,000 expenditure to purchase and install a backup generator at the Siletz River pump station.