Resolution 22006: Martial law over Tucson, or a bit of legislative fluff?


On February 20, the Tucson City Council and Mayor triggered a storm of controversy when they unanimously approved Resolution 22006, whose wording [see graphic] strongly suggests that the city is ceding authority to the Air Force in regard to the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base’s future missions and deployments. In addition, it is stated that, due to the current “emergency,” the resolution will come into effect immediately.

That such a resolution would raise an alarm is hardly surprising since that most dreaded of scenarios–the declaration of martial law–involves the ceding of authority by a civilian government to the military under conditions of a stated emergency. Adding to the sense that something unusual was going on was the fact that no special notice was given beforehand to the community that this resolution was on the agenda, even though it touched on the long contentious issue of Air Force flyovers of populated areas of Tucson–which has grown especially intense recently with the new, much noisier and less reliable F-35 slated to replace F-16s in the coming years as the mainstay of the Air Force.

Members of Tucson Forward, the activist organization opposing the stationing of the F-35 in Tucson, noticed that the resolution had unanimously passed the city council and began raising the alarm on various listserves, including the Occupy Tucson General Discussion group. This is where we picked up on the story and, on February 24, published a brief piece at titled “Tucson’s Mayor and Council declare emergency and abdicate responsibility to Air Force,” which included a statement by Lee Stanfield of Tucson Forward. At the next Occupy Tucson General Assembly, it was agreed that as many people as could make it should come and speak out against the resolution at the following week’s (March 5) City Council Meeting; contact was then made with Tucson Forward, who also agreed to come. In the meantime, letters were being written to city council members.

The result was that at what otherwise would have been a placid, even moribund city council meeting, the public comments section was packed with people speaking out forcibly against the resolution. The city council, or at least Councilwoman Karin Uhlich (Ward 3), took notice and instructed the city attorney to look into some of the questions about the resolution that the protestors were raising, especially as to whether the wording in Section 1 of the resolution cedes any of the city’s authority in the matter to the Air Force and whether there might be some clarification in the city’s use of the “emergency” provision which, it turns out, is used in some 99 percent of the resolutions that the city council passes.

But by then the controversy had already taken on a new dimension as the story of Resolution 22006 had gone viral by way of, which had paraphrased our title and cited our story in their rather sensationalistic March 4th article, “Martial Law: Tucson City Council Hands Authority Over to Military.” The added punch of sensationalism reaped dividends for in the right-wing and libertarian blogosphere: a dedicated Google search under its title shows some 459,000 results.

Two days later the Tucson Weekly–being, apparently, unaware of the real issues raised by this resolution–picked up on this element of the story and wrote a mocking blog entry (“If You’re Freaking Out About Martial Law, Calm Down”) featuring a picture of a tank driving down a city street; they even put the onus of the controversy on the protesters (casually grouping together long-term community activists and out-of-town alarmists) by stating that the resolution was just a “ceremonial measure” supporting Davis-Monthan’s continued existence and that “the language about an emergency…is in nearly everything the City Council passes, so they can implement whatever they’re doing immediately … [and so] … knowing a little about how local government works will usually keep these sort of wild misunderstandings from happening.”

But this casual dismissal about the concerns of community activists was easily answered by Lee Stanfield in her Op/Ed piece that appeared in the Arizona Daily Star on March 19 (and kudos to the Star, by the way, for publishing it), in which she pointed out that the reason the city routinely declares an “emergency” is to circumvent the need to publish a resolution in the newspaper and wait 30 days for public input. In other words, it is indeed an anti-democratic practice. And it is one of the successes of the protest over Resolution 22006 that this routine misuse of the emergency law has been brought to light and is now under review.

In addition, the protests were strong enough, and had enough validity, to compel City Attorney Mike Rankin to prepare a memo to the Davis-Monthan and Air Force leadership, with a cover letter from Mayor Rothschild, clarifying that the vague wording of Resolution 22006 does not endorse or approve any particular action or issue currently under consideration.

All in all, one might say, a pretty successful effort by activists trying to keep the city government transparent and city council resolutions from going off into a world of their own.

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