BAKER — The Baker City Council on Tuesday introduced a ordinance that would make it more difficult for the proposed RaceTrac gas station at the corner of Groom Road and La. 19 to sell alcohol.
But before making that unanimous vote on the introduction, there was a vigorous debate, with the city attorney and mayor arguing that a council member's attempts to reach that goal more quickly would be illegal.
RaceTrac received an occupational license from the city in June on a split vote with council members Pete Heine, Glenda Bryant and Charles Vincent in favor and Doris Alexander and Brenda Jackson voting against issuing the license.
At that time, RaceTrac representative Brad Smith said the company would consider opening the gas station even if it were unable to obtain a liquor license.
The lot where the proposed gas station would be located is currently occupied by a dentist office as well as other businesses. The back side of the property is adjacent to the stadium parking lot for Baker High School.
The Baker Alcohol Beverage Control Board was set to vote on the RaceTrac alcohol license during their August meeting, but put off the vote until Sept. 5.
During the City Council’s Aug. 8 meeting, Alexander argued that an amendment to Baker’s alcohol ordinance that the council passed unanimously in January makes it easier for businesses to obtain alcohol licenses near churches and schools, and she introduced an ordinance to repeal it, specifically citing RaceTrac.
State law requires that any establishment selling alcohol be no less than 300 feet from any churches or schools and states that the measurement should be made property line to property line. However, the law also allows municipalities to use alternate means of measurement.
The ordinance the council adopted in January allows Baker to instead measure door to door between any business attempting to obtain an alcohol license and a nearby church or school.
At the Aug. 8 meeting, city attorney Ken Fabre objected that Alexander acted improperly by attempting to introduce a repeal to the January law without first submitting a written ordinance. However, the council still voted and Alexander, Jackson and Heine assented. Bryant and Vincent dissented, citing improper procedure.
On Tuesday, Fabre once again objected to Alexander’s procedure, refusing to read the ordinance Alexander presented, stating it had not been properly introduced during the previous council meeting and therefore could not be the subject of a public hearing.
“As city attorney, I’m duty bound to advise the council when I see that it’s going to do something that is incorrect or illegal,” Fabre said.
“Are you going to read (the ordinance)?” Alexander asked Fabre.
“I will not read it. It’s not legal,” he answered.
Alexander then asked council clerk Angela Canady to read the ordinance; however, after the reading, Mayor Darnell Waites refused to open a public hearing.
“I am not doing anything that could bring (law)suits against the city,” Waites said.
Alexander continued to argue for holding a public hearing and voting to bring the ordinance to law, noting the council had followed the same procedure in the past.
“I have been here six years and I have never committed malpractice. I have never allowed that to happen,” Fabre said.
Former Baker Mayor Leroy Davis confirmed that there were times before the present council when ordinances were introduced verbally.
“Many laws have been broken throughout the years, but that doesn’t change the law,” Heine said.
“This is important," Alexander said. "This is about our children being able to step a few feet from the school to a place selling alcohol. You are stopping me from doing this. Fine, then, I’ll introduce it. I’ll introduce it.”
The vote on the introduction of the ordinance was unanimous.
In a 3-2 vote, the council also decided to seek an attorney general’s opinion on whether the council may adopt a rule allowing the council president and, in the president’s absence, the vice president to preside over council meetings rather than the mayor. Vincent, Jackson and Alexander voted in favor of the resolution with Heine and Bryant dissenting.
The city’s charter states that the mayor may preside over meetings, not that he must do so.
In other business, Waites introduced new fire chief Christopher Hunt, who will replace retiring fire chief Danny Edwards.
Hunt has served as district fire chief in Baker since 2009.