Correction: See below.
CENTRAL POINT — A decision Thursday regarding a controversial gas tax caused confusion for audience members and the City Council when interpretation of the city's charter seemed to conflict with past decisions and with practices of other cities around the Rogue Valley.
In consideration of a fuel tax, five of six council members were present, casting a vote of 3-2 in favor of the 3-cents-per-gallon tax.
In most cities with six-member councils — including Central Point — a 3-2 vote has been deemed a majority ruling for government decisions.
But City Attorney Doug Engle told council and audience members Thursday that the measure failed because it did not receive an affirmative vote by a majority of council members present.
According to the city charter, the mayor is considered part of the council but can vote only to break a tie.
Engle said, however, because Mayor Hank Williams is considered part of the council, four affirmative votes were required for approval, even though the mayor was not permitted to vote on the issue Thursday.
After the council's vote, 60-plus audience members left, believing the tax had been defeated. City officials issued a news release Friday saying the tax had been defeated, contradicting news reports.
Engle said Friday he stood by his advice to the council. He declined to comment on how that might affect previous issues that were settled by a vote of 3-2.
Jack Orchard, an attorney for the Oregon Newspaper Publishers Association, called the outcome of the council vote unusual.
"I'm having a hard time getting past the language that says concurrence of the majority present," Orchard said Friday.
"If you have a valid meeting because you have a quorum and a majority of those members, whether you count the mayor or not, constitute a quorum, you can take official action. You don't need to count the mayor for purposes of the quorum."
Councilwoman Kay Harrison, who said she was surprised by Engle's advice Thursday and recalled successful 3-2 votes in her years as a city official, said she would defer to Engle for the sake of citizens.
"When the vote was taken I thought it passed. Members of the audience thought it passed," she said. "And then Doug stood up and said according to the city charter we would have had to have four yes votes to have something pass even though Hank couldn't vote."
"I will stick by what our city attorney said basically because of the people that left City Hall thinking that the ordinance went down."
Williams said Friday he was confused on the matter and would reserve official comment until he had "done more research." Williams has expressed support for the gas tax.
"I'd like to wait and see if a state gas tax is approved before we bring it up again," Williams said.
Grange Co-Op spokesman Bill Christie acknowledged even he considered 3-2 a majority vote but said Friday he was glad to hear the city would not be collecting a fuel tax.
Christie said with a laugh, "I don't know what happened, but as long as it's dead, I don't care."
Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Correction: The original version of this story published in the Mail Tribune bore a misleading headline that said "Central Point vote was a 'no' on gas tax." The vote was actually yes, by a 3-2 majority, but a city attorney's ruling has apparently overruled the council's vote.
Central Point vote was 'Yes' on gas tax
Correction: See below.