Council declines to oppose Patriot Act
By Jesse PHelps
It came down to a split vote
on whether to consider an action, but after Tuesday night it
seems that Ojai will not join several other municipalities throughout
California and the nation in adopting a resolution to combat
what some see as unconstitutional elements of the Patriot Act.
As the City Council convened to discuss three items on a relatively
light agenda, it was the unscheduled items section of the meeting
that wound up providing the most debate and intrigue.
Several venerable citizens came forth to promote the idea of
the city adopting a resolution in defiance of the Patriot Act.
The bill, rushed through
Congress shortly after Sept. 11, 2001, allows the federal government
new avenues to obtain information on its citizens, loosens search
and seizure requirements for law enforcement agencies and scares
a large segment of the populace.
Carol Grier of Ojai spoke about her concerns, saying that the
act broadened governmental powers to the point that citizens
can now be prosecuted for "acts of resistance."
Grier was followed by several more speakers, all encouraging
council to take action and adopt the resolution, which holds
as its purpose the "reaffirming the commitment to civil
liberties and the Bill of Rights by the Ojai City Council."
One woman expressed the "deep concern people have with invasion
of privacy at all levels" and likened the Patriot Act as
a way of combating terrorism to "taking a sledgehammer to
crack a nut."
And Dave Ellison, a 28-year resident of Ojai and retired Air
Force man who spent time in the Judge Advocate division, claimed
the act was misnamed, saying, "The patriots of 1776 would
be appalled by what has happened in 2001."
The group came armed with a petition with 200 signatures. However,
in a valley with nearly 20,000 residents, that number didn't
seem to sway at least two members of the council.
Councilwoman Rae Hanstad called the Patriot Act "an important
piece of legislation that is slippery at best" and said
she would not support a resolution going on the agenda because
she thinks her constituents would prefer she focus on local issues.
Mayor Joe DeVito concurred, adding that he would be unwilling
to spend city resources to further discuss the issue.
Mayor Pro-Tem Sue Horgan is vacationing in Massachusetts and
missed the meeting, so the two nay votes were enough to ensure
that, for now anyway, the item will not go on the agenda.
Still, those in favor of cities taking aim at the act can take
reassurance that two members of the council, David Bury and Carol
Smith, voted in support of considering the item. Smith referenced
a recent trip to New York City in which she saw "every brown-skinned
person in the room rounded up" in conjunction with a suspected
terrorist on the loose. She said she thought the resolution was
carefully worded and supported the idea of looking to the State
to further examine the constitutionality of the Patriot Act.
California cities such as Arcata and neighboring Santa Barbara
have passed resolutions opposing the Patriot Act.
Bury was not entirely comfortable with the resolution but ultimately
voted to put discussion of it on the agenda, saying that he feels
that law is "very alarming. I share your concern on this
issue," he said.
With the tie vote, city attorney Monte Widders said, the council
is to treat the issue as a non-passing item, suggesting that,
at least for now, Ojai will support the federal government in
its enforcement of the Patriot Act.
One other speaker petitioned the council on an unrelated matter.
Local nursery school teacher Anya Stewart asked that council
consider the idea of naming a memorial tree, perhaps in replacement
of the diseased mammoth oak in Libbey Park, in honor of recently
passed teacher and environmental activist Eileen Baker.
In addition, the council dealt with three items actually on the
agenda. It unanimously approved the city reorganization, the
official death knell for the city's general services department,
something of a formality after the recent passing of the budget
for the coming fiscal year, which already anticipated the loss
of the three positions.
It also unanimously agreed to support the lobbying efforts of
the League of California Cities, a non-partisan group that supports
municipalities in Sacramento. In the final agenda item of the
night, council agreed to sell a landlocked, or roadway-inaccessible,
land parcel between Drown and Daly downtown.
The Ojai Valley News
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