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Damascus must decide if citizen's plan can go on November ballot

County, state throw decision back to city


The city of Damascus, according to city attorney Peter Watts, does not believe it should decide whether a petition-driven comprehensive plan can go on the November ballot.

The ballot will already carry another comprehensive plan that was pushed by Mayor Steve Spinnett and approved by the City Council.

Whether the citizen's plan gets on the November ballot depends on whether it was filed 90 days before the election and that decision has not been made.

It's important that Damascus adopt a comp plan because not having one has caused major problems for the city in the past. The city was incorporated in 2004 and its failure to adopt a comprehensive plan after several failed efforts has led to financial sanctions by the state’s Department of Land Conservation and Development and an act by the state Legislature, House Bill 4029, to allow citizens to leave the city through de-annexation.

At present, the comp plan sanctioned by the mayor will be on the November ballot, while the petition-driven citizen's comp plan is still in limbo.

That's because the official filing date, which must be 90 days before the November election, has not been set.

The city wanted Clackamas County to decide on the matter and also asked for help from the Secretary of State. Both threw the decision back to the city.

At the Damascus City Council meeting Aug. 18, Watts advised the council that a letter had been sent to Clackamas County Clerk Sherry Hall asking her to make a determination about the filing date.

“We provided the county clerk with all the information as far as what has happened and are hoping the county would make a determination on the filing date,” he said.

Sponsors of the citizen's petition-driven comp plan tried to meet the filing deadline at a specially called City Council meeting Aug. 5, which would have been within the 90 day window, but Spinnett and two other councilors did not attend so the meeting was called off for lack of a quorum. The same thing happened at another special meeting called for Aug. 6.

The council finally forwarded the citizen's plan to Clackamas County elections at its Aug. 18 meeting, outside the 90-day window. If the council uses the Aug. 5 date, the citizen's plan will go on the November ballot. If it uses the Aug. 18 date, the citizen's plan will go on the March ballot next year.

Spinnett has admitted that he purposely missed the meeting so there would not be a quorum and so only one comp plan, the one sponsored by the council, would be on the November ballot. He has said in the past that having two plans to choose from would just confuse voters.

At the Aug. 18, meeting, resident Susan Callahan spoke to the council and refuted that argument.

“You said having two plans on the ballot would confuse voters, but I don't think we're that stupid,” she said. “So I urge everybody, I urge the council, to vote to allow another plan to be on the ballot to give the people a choice.”

Earlier this week, Hall said it is not up to the county to decide the filing date for the citizen's plan.

“Our counsel emphasized again that this is a city decision,” she said. “It's not a decision to be made by my office or me. We are sending the city an e-mail and we are waiting for their determination. It is in their hands.”

Watts tried, for the second time this week, to persuade Oregon Secretary of State Kate Brown's office to weigh in on who should decide the filing date. He got much the same response.

“It's for the city to decide whether an initiative has been properly filed with the city's governing body,” said Secretary of State spokesman Tony Green. “It's a question about the city's charter and rules.”

Calls to Watts and the city of Damascus were not returned by press time.



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