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City wins case against former mayor

Judge rules that city was not attempting to avoid limitations in the city charter

A Clackamas County judge ruled recently in favor of the city of West Linn in a 2005 case where former mayor David Dodds challenged the council's authority to designate city-owned lands for specific uses.

Circuit Court Judge Douglas V. Van Dyk on July 14 upheld the council's action when, soon after taking office in 2005, it changed the designation of a tract of property at 21395 Willamette Drive from 'open space' to 'city-owned.'

Former mayor David Dodds, whose term ended in 2004, challenged the current council's action. Dodds said that the purpose of the change was to sidestep the city charter and facilitate sale of the property. The charter requires voter approval before land designated for parks or open space is sold or put to other uses.

Judge Van Dyk, who reviewed the city's actions, decided that Dodds' accusation did not have credence in this case. Dodds had submitted a memo to the court that said the change of designation was 'specifically made to facilitate the sale of the property or to allow the use of the property in a manner inconsistent with an open space designation.'

The council's action, Dodds said, was in violation of Chapter XI of the city charter, which he helped write when he was in office. The current council, soon after taking office, changed the designation of the 0.4-acre piece of land, which also has an uninhabitable house.

Judge Van Dyk disagreed with Dodds' accusations after reviewing minutes of the Feb. 14, 2005 city council meeting. He noted that the city's agreement with the county, where it acquired the property, requires the city to keep the property for at least 20 years. Council discussion also included several statements about redesignating the land 'open space' at some future date.

'No subterfuge has taken place here,' the judge ruled. 'This is not an attempt on the part of the council to avoid limitations set forth in Chapter XI (of the city charter) … The writ is quashed.'

Reached by telephone Monday, Dodds said he would not comment for the Tidings story.

But the judge did rebuke the city for the way it presented its proposed action in public notices prior to the Feb. 14, 2005 meeting.

'The notice is too vague to allow an ordinary reader to understand that the council would be making a decision about whether to change a designation of property from 'open space' to something else,' he wrote in his decision.

'Had the notice been clearer in this regard, it would likely have attracted some attention in this metropolitan area where such matters often elicit much public comment.'