Skateshop owner wins appeal to City Council

by: Darryl Swan, (Front) Terry Morgan, 44, and John Harper Jr., 45, listen to the Scappoose City Council vote on a business license appeal for a skate shop on Columbia River Highway. The shop was initially denied because of a decade-old conviction against Harper for third-degree rape of a minor.

There was a moment when John Harper Jr., owner of the Scappoose Smoke Shop and, now, Bully's skateshop on Columbia River Highway, came close to tears as he bounced his soul off the Scappoose City Council Monday night.

In early February, the city denied Harper, 45, a business license to run the skateshop due to a city code that allows such denials if there is a reasonable risk to public health and safety. In 2000, Harper pleaded guilty to third-degree rape of a minor, and served a five-year prison sentence.

City staff argued that sex offenders and a business that caters to youth don't mix.

Harper and Terry Morgan, 44, who would manage the shop on a day-to-day basis for Harper, spoke at an appeal hearing Monday night, where the two were able to claim victory following a 4-2 vote to allow the license.

'It was a tough decision, a lot of things to think about,' said Mayor Scott Burge.

Councilors Judie Ingham and Jeff Bernhard voted against the license, and Councilor Donna Gedlich was absent.

Harper and Morgan met with City Manager Jon Hanken and Police Chief Doug Greisen prior to the hearing.

After that meeting, Harper added Morgan's name as business manager to a new license application, and submitted it to the city. This time, city staff recommended approval.

'I feel that Mr. Harper should be given consideration simply due to the new information that has been provided to us,' Hanken said.

Hanken and Greisen said they both felt safe that Harper would not have a significant presence at the shop to warrant a license denial.

'We talked a lot about this,' Greisen said, adding that he feels confident the business would not pose a threat.

The final motion to approve the shop included language that the approval was based on the city manager's and police chief's appraisal of the situation.

Harper said he was willing to comply with any city-imposed condition that would give the councilors a comfort level to open the shop. He said his role in the shop is as a financial backer to help out his friend, Morgan.

Morgan pointed out to the city that the two could have played a subterfuge on the council, switching out their names and signing sublease agreements to take Harper's name off the license, but instead opted for truthfulness.

'The bottom line is, it's the truth,' Morgan said. 'It's all out in the open.'

Ingham, who on several occasions raised her concern about how the public would perceive the council decision, said she had process concerns, including how the relationship between business owners and managers plays out on the business license applications.

Harper was taken off parole in April last year. His parole officer has said he poses a very low risk to the community.

He said the crime, which involved the 16-year-old daughter of a former wife, was an isolated incident during a 'chaotic' period of his life.

'There has to be a point sometime in my life where I get this out of the closet,' he said about his past.

'I'm not asking for a reward. I'm asking for forgiveness at some point,' he said.