By Steve Tool

Wallowa County Chieftain

A discussion of winter snow removal led to a second round of bantering over removal of a tree downtown at the Nov. 2 Joseph City Council meeting.

Mayor Dennis Sands noted that several Main Street businesses had used ATVs to clean snow from their sidewalks and had damaged several of the flower boxes. He suggested letting city workers initially clean the sidewalks to avoid property damage.

Council member Teresa Sajonia suggested the city leave clearing the sidewalks to businesses entirely unless two or more inches of snow fell. It was also suggested that city workers only do the initial snow removal, before 8 a.m., with the businesses responsible for additional snow removal.

Council member Tom Clevenger suggested adding a clause to the ordinance that prohibits businesses from using ATVs for snow-clearing, but allowing snow removal with shovels or snow blowers to avoid damage to the sidewalk pavers and flower boxes.

Joseph business owner Becky Rushton said she did not understand the ordinance. “Now you’re going to tell all these people that they can’t take four-wheelers out there?”

Discussion ensued.

“We’re getting damage from this,” Clevenger said. “We’re getting planters damaged ... we’re trying to prevent damage. It’s not because we want to make it harder on people.”

Newly sworn in council member Kathy Bingham noted that the council spent a large amount of time at the last meeting discussing the sidewalk and planter damage the city will have to pay to repair, and she didn’t understand the blowback from Rushton. She said the city can enforce the prohibition by first sending a cease and desist letter to the offender followed by a fine if it were ignored.

Sajonia said that the ordinance would probably lessen ATV use, but enforcement was not possible. She added that she could guarantee some business owners would refuse to take care of the planters in front of their businesses if the ordinance were enforced.

The removal of a damaged tree from near the Outlaw Restaurant, owned by the Rushtons, because of city liability provided more controversy. During an inspection of the city’s trees, the state forester noted that the tree in question had an 18-inch split at the crotch and recommended its removal for safety reasons. Two other arborsists the city called to assess the tree agreed.

Sands said the city had received suggestions of putting screws in the split, topping the tree or banding it. The city contacted the forester again, who reiterated her previous conclusion.

The city has received two bids to remove the tree in the coming spring. Sands said the forester recommended several tree species to replace the split tree and planned to discuss those options with the Rushtons.

Rushton said she wouldn’t have been so upset if the city hadn’t let inexperienced pruners trim the trees.

Sands disagreed. He said the past pruning was not that bad of a job. He said the latest science recommends very little tree pruning. Rushton replied it seemed the council made up rules as it went along. Sands pointed out that Rushton wouldn’t let the crew touch her tree anyway.

“They’d already done it before that, Dennis,” Rushton said. “Don’t say that.”

Clevenger said that if the tree were deemed a liability to the city, it needed to be removed without further discussion. Rushton asked for a signed statement from the city with the date of the tree’s removal before castigating Sands on other issues.

“I’ve asked several things of you, Dennis, but nothing has happened,” she said, adding that she’d waited all summer for Sands to act. Sands disagreed. She started to complain about the potholes by her restaurant not being filled when Clevenger called for a point of order as the subject was unrelated to the matter.

Sands said the city would give Rushton a definitive date for the tree’s replacement. Rushton replied that she wanted a definitive deadline. Sands said she would get the statement within a week and the tree replacement would happen by June 1.

Bingham said she was confused by the discussion as the tree was owned by the city.

“Who owns the sidewalks?” Rushton asked. No one answered, and Rushton said, “That’s just it? It’s unbelievable.”

Sands later said that the city offered to reconsider the removal of the tree if the Rushtons would absolve the city of liability. The Rushtons refused.

Sajonia asked if the council would vote on the issue. She then went on to criticize Sands as being an autocrat.

“This whole meeting I’ve heard nothing but, ‘I’ve done this and I’ve done that’ I feel like a counselor that’s on the outside,” she said. “I don’t understand: I thought we were on a weak mayoral system where it is all as a group, not one person.”

She added she’d like to be more involved and followed with a motion to give the tree a year to see if the previously mentioned fixes could work.

No one seconded the motion. Clevenger followed with a motion to remove the tree. It was seconded and the motion passed with Sajonia as the only dissenting vote.

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