Time for a do-over

You remember do-overs: They're what school kids ask for when they're involved in a game or a project or any task and something goes wrong.

"I call do-overs," they'll yell, and their friends, acknowledging the failure, let them try it again.

The city of Central Point hasn't actually asked for a do-over on its vote this month on a 3-cents-per-gallon tax on gas sold in the city. But we're here to say it's time for one anyway.

The council approached the tax proposal in a fairly straightforward matter, telling constituents it wanted to tax gas to pay for road repairs and in return would ease other fees. Then debate began, a logical next step any time a tax is proposed. Then the council, with one of its six members missing, voted 3-2 to pass the tax.

And then its attorney told the group that meant the proposal had actually failed instead of passing.

The logic here has to do with Mayor Hank Williams' role in the council. While he does not vote as part of the council except in the case of a tie, the city charter defines the council as "composed of a mayor and six council members." Because six elected officials — Williams and the five council members — were at the meeting, the proposal needed at least four votes to pass, City Attorney Doug Engle told the body.

This could be a plausible reading of the document, except that it specifically says Williams doesn't vote unless there's a tie. Because there was no tie on the gas tax, he couldn't vote — and thus it was odd at best to count him as part of the total.

Second-term mayor Williams says he was surprised when Engle, city attorney for nearly 18 years, shared that interpretation of the law.

Particularly troubling here is the implication this decision would seem to have for other 3-2 approvals that remain on Central Point's books, among them a controversial annexation in 2007, a 1996 decision to consolidate fire departments and a decision that year to hand over the city's sewer system to the Bear Creek Valley Sanitary Authority. Engle says maybe the mayor wasn't present at those meetings. It seems unlikely the mayor missed all those big discussions, but we were unable to nail that down Thursday.

Either way, the confusion around this issue shows that Central Point needs clarity on how its charter works. And if in fact it works as Engle says it does, the council may need to revisit some decisions of the past.

Then the council ought to have the opportunity for a do-over on this one, this time with full knowledge about what everyone's vote means in the end.

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