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Damascus lawsuits challenge election outcome

As the city of Damascus deals with fallout from sanctions from the state for not filing a comprehensive growth plan, resident Chris Hawes continues his legal action to disincorporate the city.

Hawes led a petition drive to have the city disincorporated which appeared on the November 2013 ballot. Although a majority of residents who cast ballots voted to disincorporate, a majority of all 6,879 registered voters was required but not reached, so the measure failed. Hawes’ attorney, Paul Hribernick, said the law requiring that “super majority” is not valid and the measure to disincorporate should have passed.

Hawes has filed two lawsuits which names the city of Damascus, Clackamas County and Secretary of State Kate Brown as defendants. A hearing on the lawsuits will be held April 15 before Clackamas County Circuit Court Judge Deanne Darling, Hribernick said. One of the lawsuits calls for a declaratory judgment that the city be dissolved and the second calls for a new election to allow another vote to disincorporate the city, Hribernick said.

Sanctions from the state against Damascus include the recent passage of House Bill 4029, which gives some Damascus residents the right to withdraw, or de-annex, from Damascus and join with another nearby municipality. The bill was introduced because of Damascus’ failure to file an acceptable comp plan.

The city also has been sanctioned by the state Land Conservation and Development Commission for failing to file a comp plan, and as of April 1, the LCDC is withholding $300,000 the city received annually in the past for planning purposes.

Damascus was incorporated in 2004 and has missed multiple deadlines, according to the 28-page LCDC report.

“While the city has completed a number of tasks required by the compliance schedules, it is undisputed that the city has not completed a significant number of the tasks required by the compliance schedules, let alone all of the tasks,” the report states.

The report states that Damascus argued that it has tried “as hard as it can” toward meeting schedules, but argued that it failed to do so, “due to political differences within the city and the requirement that any comprehensive plan and land-use regulations be approved by the voters before submission to LCDC.”

Previous attempts to have an approved plan have failed, and now three comprehensive plans will be on the May ballot. One of the plans, the original plan developed by staff and the Damascus Planning Commission, will be on the ballot because of a petition signature campaign. A second plan, said to favor private property, was prepared under the guidance of Damascus Mayor Steven Spinnett. The third plan, sponsored by Damascus City Council President Andrew Jackman, is said to have an environmental bent that protects the city’s rural character.

Jackman said he will be interested to see what the Clackamas court has to say when it considers Hawes’ complaints on April 15, but hopes the issues will be resolved after the May 20 election.

“I’ll be interested in hearing the legal response to that,” he said. “Obviously, it’s not easy to govern here where two-thirds don’t want to be a city.”

But the city is more handcuffed by the passage of HB 4029, and Jackman said the city will fight against attempts for residents to de-annex, as the bill allows.

“I think we will do everything possible to address that issue legally,” he said.

As for the loss of $300,000 from the state, Jackman said it doesn’t matter much because an amendment to the city’s charter allows the city to only adopt a budget that doesn’t exceed the previous budget.

“We have more money than we can spend, so what difference does it make?” he said. “They’re not saying we’re not ever going to have it.”



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