Boring residents to sue county
- Marcus Hathcock
- Sandy Post - News
Quasi-government designation debate comes to a head
A not-for-profit organization has announced that it will file a lawsuit against Clackamas County for violating the civil rights of citizens, property owners and business owners living in the proposed village of Boring.
The Concerned Citizens of the Boring CPO - made up of residents adverse to the proposed quasi-government - gave the county its notice of intent to sue Wednesday, June 21, according to the group's attorney, William Cloran. County Commission Staff Assistant Cherie McGinnis acknowledged the county received the claim.
'We think the process to create this village is flawed,' said Wayne Strickland, one of the leaders of the concerned citizens group. 'Until this point, we have been powerless to get our message out to the county commissioners.'
That message, according to the five-page tort notice, is that the county has violated its own laws regarding the formation of a village, has limited voting and participation in the village creation process and has potentially invented an illegitimate form of government under state law.
County commissioners approved its complete communities ordinance last summer, which created a new venue for citizens in unincorporated areas to voice concerns, set priorities and otherwise advise the county on matters of local importance.
'I think the concept of having local control and a voice at the county commission level is an OK concept,' Strickland conceded. 'But the process is flawed.'
The battle over boundaries
Most of the group's objections stem from the many changes that have been made to the proposed village boundaries.
When the village backers obtained the 250 petition signatures (that's 3 percent of Boring's population of 8,400), the boundaries included the entire area of the Boring Community Planning Organization. Since then, residents from various portions of the CPO have come forward and have asked to be removed from the village.
In many cases, the petitioners obliged and asked the county commissioners to revise the boundaries to accommodate those requests on several occasions.
'Those who don't want to be involved don't have to,' McGinnis said. 'We don't want people in who don't want to be there.'
The concerned citizens group alleges that since the village has not been completely formed, it is not yet authorized to propose boundary changes to the county commissioners. The group alleges that the revisions to the so-called 'provisional' boundaries are in violation of the county code.
'We've felt that the rules keep changing, and they keep changing in favor of the petitioners,' Strickland said.
In a letter to the commissioners, County Counsel Steven Lounsbury admitted that the process has played out contrary to the complete communities ordinance.
'We are discovering that there are some inconsistencies between certain provisions of the ordinance and what has been found to work most effectively in practice,' Lounsbury wrote. 'Substance should prevail over form.'
The county plans to make revisions to its ordinance in order to make the law better reflect the process used in the Boring proceedings. Lounsbury said the changes will 'clarify some of the confusion in the wording' of the ordinance.
Even if the pre-formation boundary alterations are legitimate, the concerned citizens group arguse, the county should circulate a new petition to the revised village area.
'They got consent based on one set of boundaries,' Cloran noted. 'They need to redo it.'
The plaintiffs attest that the boundary revisions have trampled on their civil rights - including the right to vote and hold office. Despite the fact that many members of the concerned citizens group led successful petition campaigns to be removed from the village boundaries, they still want to vote in the July 15 town hall elections, which will determine whether or not the village will be formed.
'The question is, when do people get to get out of the village, and when they do, are they out for good?' Cloran asked. The prospect of getting 'sucked back in,' as village opponent Charlette Chatelain says, is what drives the concerned citizens group to seek voting privileges.
Chief Petitioner Les Otto and McGinnis said that areas taken out of the village may be brought back into the boundaries if a majority of the people in those areas vote to rejoin.
'We're not trying to force anything on anyone,' Otto said.
Some citizens living in areas taken out of the village also want the ability to run for the village board just in case residents approve the designation. Strickland opened an office for the concerned citizens group in downtown Boring in part so he could still run for the board.
'It's just screwy that people are nominated on the basis of one set of boundaries and then they change them midstream and tell them they can't run,' Cloran said. 'I'm sure the secretary of state would have a cow if the elections division got a look at what's going on.'
John Lindback, the state's senior elections official, said he was unaware of the village concept.
'This is totally foreign,' he said. 'There is a lot of leeway given to local governments, allowing them to do stuff on their own, and their law prevails over state law. But when it comes to elections, state law prevails.'
Lindback said he was unable to comment on the legality of the proceedings without having the state's legal counsel review the county's ordinance.
In a work session on Tuesday, June 20, county commissioners heard the voting/candidacy complaints from some of the members of the concerned citizens group, but ruled that because they opted out of the village, they would not be eligible to vote.
'They said no,' McGinnis said. 'If you don't live in Oregon City, for instance, you can't vote on Oregon City issues.'
An illegal government?
In the tort notice, the concerned citizens group alleges that the county has created an illegal governmental authority with the village.
'We don't think you can create what is essentially a political body/taxing district without the authorization of the Legislature,' Cloran told The Post.
McGinnis said the village is 'just an advisory board' that has no authority other than what the commissioners give it. The village would not be able to propose taxes according to recently revised bylaws, however, individual citizens may propose a village tax.
Cloran believes that the village designation is not an advisory body, since advisory bodies have no need to enter into a 'memorandum of understanding' with other governmental entities, manage municipal services or propose taxes - all of which the village may do.
Instead, Cloran believes the village is a county service district in hiding.
'Every organization with legislative authority in Oregon - including county service districts - has the right to initiative and referendum,' Cloran said. He noted that if citizens don't agree with an action of the county commissioners, they would have to petition the entire county to put the issue to a vote - on which the entire county would cast ballots since the village is a county agency.
'Nothing is different,' McGinnis argued. 'Nobody can put anything on the ballot but the commissioners.'
Despite the village backers' concessions with regard to proposed village activities and boundaries, the concerned citizens group just wants the county to scrap the village and start over.
'The whole thing looks like a mess to us,' Cloran said. 'We would like to stop the process that's going on now and come out with something that makes sense for everybody so Boring can deal with what's coming.'
Otto says he's no longer confident that the village will come to fruition.
'Things have gotten so distorted,' he said. 'We missed a lot of opportunities to reach out to the community, but there has also been a lot of misinformation out there. I just hope that we don't become so fractured that we are not able to respond to the changes that are coming to Boring.'
Chatelain said that after the village fails - which she hopes it will - she and other community leaders will hold meetings with residents to find out what they want to do. That could lead to the formation of a hamlet, another quasi-government that differs from a village mainly in that a village tax is prohibited.
The chief petitioners have indicated that if the village fails, they will not be part of a campaign to set up a hamlet or another form of government.
'We'll tell them, 'No, you're not done,' ' Chatelain said. 'You're going to do what you should have done all along - find out what your residents want.'
But Otto believes that no matter what Boring's leaders do, there will always be a contingent of 'disgruntled' opponents.
'If someone picks this up to become a hamlet, I guarantee that someone will say, 'Hey, I never heard about this, stop what you're doing,' ' he said.