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Tacoma council members to remove “boycott” language from tonight’s proposal on Arizona

Post by Lewis Kamb / The News Tribune on May 18, 2010 at 11:01 am | 62 Comments »
May 18, 2010 11:45 am

Two Tacoma City Council members who have proposed a measure to discourage business with and travel to Arizona due to that state’s new law cracking down on illegal immigrants are planning to remove the “boycott” language from their proposal, a city spokesman said today.

Council members Ryan Mello and Lauren Walker, who co-sponsored the proposal to be considered at tonight’s council meeting, “are changing the language of the resolution” to focus “more on the issue of racial profiling and a request to the city manager and the utility director not to send city staff on trips to Arizona,” said city spokesman Rob McNair-Huff.

McNair-Huff said the council members have said they decided to remove the “boycott” language and make other changes after having “conversations with their colleagues as well as (getting) feedback from community members.”

Since Mello and Walker publicly released details of their proposal last week, readers have generally denounced the idea in comment threads and a “hot button” poll on The News Tribune’s website.

Cities around the nation have passed similar boycott measures targeting Arizona after that state passed SB 1070 last month. Los Angeles adopted a boycott last week, while the Seattle City Council unanimously approved a measure yesterday.

Such measures generally have claimed Arizona’s new law encourages racial profiling and is unconstitutional. The law, set to take effect July 29, requires police, when enforcing another law, to question a person about immigration status if “reasonable suspicion” exists that the person is in the United States illegally.

Some polls have shown strong support for the Arizona law. This recent King 5 poll showed Tacoma residents generally favored the Arizona law and feel the city of Tacoma should support it.

Arizona officials, including Gov. Jan Brewer, have called such boycotts “misguided” and defended the Arizona law, saying it mirrors a federal requirement that legal immigrants carry immigration papers, according to recent reports by The Associated Press.

After hearing concerns and tepid responses from city council colleagues during last week’s study session, Mello and Walker tweaked initial drafts of their measure, including removing language about city contracts that had been in an original version.

As of Friday, even the draft of the measure that existed then — which included “boycott” language — seemed more symbolic than practical. It stated that unless Arizona rescinds the law, the council “urges” City Manager Eric Anderson and Public Utilities Director Bill Gaines “to boycott Arizona products and businesses in every way that is legal, practicable, and consistent with the law, including, but not limited to, avoid sending City officials or employees to conferences or other travel to Arizona.”

That version also encouraged other governments, private businesses and pro and college sports leagues to boycott the southwest state.

On Friday, I asked Anderson how that version would have affected the city’s relationship with Arizona. He replied that, if passed, the measure would have no consequence on existing and future city contracts. The only practical effect, he added, would have been on decisions about “discretionary spending,” largely related to city travel.

For instance, if city employees wanted to attend a professional conference or seminar in Arizona, “we would think very hard” about sending them, Anderson said. He added he is not aware of any plans by city employees to travel to Arizona for business or professional conferences.

“The way (the resolution was written as of Friday) speaks to legal and fiscal limitations,” Anderson said. “All of our purchases are regulated by state law, so in that area, it is limited.”

For instance, pulling out of any existing contracts with Arizona firms would put the city in breach of contract and subject to legal ramifications, Anderson said. As for future contracts, the city is subject to Washington state’s competitive bidding law, and so cannot lawfully choose to ignore the lowest responsible bid for any future city contract just because it came from a firm with Arizona ties, he added.

As far as city officials knew as of late last week, the City of Tacoma currently holds just one contract with a business based in Arizona: RedFlex Traffic Systems, which administers operations of the city’s red light cameras. Both Walker and Anderson, for reasoning spelled out above about existing contracts, had already noted last week that the city’s contract with RedFlex would be unaffected by the resolution.

Anderson added Friday that if a city employee in the future had to travel to Arizona to get training or certification related to the traffic enforcement camera operations, he likely would approve such a trip.

“That, I would think, is not discretionary,” Anderson said, because “we’re talking about very important revenue streams for the city” that are a function of an existing contract.

According to city spokeswoman Karrie Spitzer, the city pays RedFlex about $75,000 per month to administer operations for the 16 red light, speeding and school zone cameras now working in Tacoma. Spitzer did not immediately know Monday how much revenue the traffic enforcement cameras bring into the city, and directed my revenue questions to Tacoma Police Lt. Corey Darlington. Darlington had not responded as of 10:30 a.m. today.

I’ve put calls out this morning to both Mello and Walker for more details about their proposed changes. I’ll update this post with more information once I hear of them later, or at the very least, in tomorrow’s story in the TNT.

Walker, who returned my call between meetings while I was on the phone, left a voice mail saying she and Mello plan to have a final version of their proposal ready by today’s council study session.

“Ryan and I did some changes over the weekend and sent them to council members on Monday,” she said. “And there’s going to be some further changes this morning. We are planning is having the final amendments done by noon today.”

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