Polarized town will decide its future at town hall meeting

The debate in Boring over the establishment of a village quasi-government appears to be in its final days, as the community prepares to vote on the matter starting this weekend.

Voters from approximately 1,250 households and countless non-resident business owners and property owners will take part in a town hall-style referendum on the proposed bylaws and board members for the county's new governance model from 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday at Naas Elementary School, 12240 S.E. School Ave.

Eligible 'villagers' will also have the opportunity to vote from 5 to 8 p.m. on both July 17 and July 24, at the Boring-Damascus Grange, 27861 S.E. Grange Street.

Residents will have to bring proof of residency, property ownership or business ownership in order to vote. Those who forget to bring proof will be able to vote using a provisional ballot, which will only be questioned if the vote is close.

To address the opposition's request that an 'outside' group handle the elections - instead of county consulting firm Cogan Owens Cogan - the local League of Women Voters may assist in the town hall vote.

The village - a new form of 'quasi-government' under Clackamas County's 'complete communities' ordinance - seeks to give citizens in unincorporated areas (non-cities) greater influence over the decisions that affect their lives.

Wielding greater power and influence than a community planning organization (CPO), the village is able to receive grant money from federal, state, local and private sources as an agency of the county. According to the 'complete communities' Web site, '(h)amlets and villages may assume some local governance functions,' moving beyond the CPO's typical land-use planning function.

The village may enter into (non-binding) intergovernmental agreements and memoranda of understanding with other government agencies, such as cities. Villagers also may propose a 'village tax' to county commissioners, which could be referred to a county ballot.

County commissioners say the village would become the official voice of the citizens in the Boring community.

A short, troubled history

Since March, when commissioners voted to let Boring begin the process of forming a village, residents have turned out in large numbers to several pre-town hall 'organizational' meetings - gatherings intended to set up the bylaws, boundaries and activities of the proposed village.

For the most part, those meetings have been dominated by debate between the pro-village chief petitioners and residents skeptical of the quasi-government.

Village backers say the same 'handful of people' has hampered the organizational meetings by dwelling on the same handful of issues and not moving forward.

Critics of the village agree that many of the same issues have been brought up at the meetings and say that illustrates their point that the citizens have not been adequately informed of the process.

Many rumors have circulated throughout the community, including the untrue allegations that the village would have power to unilaterally impose taxes and that it would have zoning authority. In truth, the village would not be able to change county zoning.

According to the 'complete communities' ordinance, a tax for Boring is possible, but only individual citizens may propose the tax, not the board of directors, and then the citizenry must vote whether or not to refer the tax proposal to county commissioners. The commissioners then have the power to decide whether or not to put the village tax on a ballot. Villagers then make the final decision on a regular (paper) county ballot.

Even after some residents cut through the spin from both sides of the debate and learned what the village could and could not do, they still told village backers they opposed it because they were not adequately informed about the process.

A group of village opponents known as The Concerned Citizens of the Boring CPO have filed a lawsuit against Clackamas County for alleged violations of voting and campaigning rights related to a process that county attorneys have even admitted keeps changing.

Getting out the vote

Representatives from both sides of the debate are engaged in last-minute efforts to sway the votes of the Boring community.

'We're calling all our friends and neighbors, obviously, trying to get them to get out there and vote,' said Les Otto, Chairman of the Boring Community Planning Organization and a chief village petitioner. Proponents have also been encouraged to write letters to the editor to various newspapers, including this one.

One village backer, inspired by the opposition's frequent 'Tattler' newsletters, has bankrolled the distribution of a pro-village newsletter to the 1,250 households in the new boundary area. The fliers were mailed Friday, July 7.

Wayne Strickland, one of the most vocal opponents to the village and the Vice Chairman of the Concerned Citizens of the Boring CPO, said he and likeminded neighbors will be going door-to-door in advance of Saturday's town hall meeting to 'let people know the issues and the encourage them to come out and vote.'

They plan to reach around 5,000 people before the town hall meeting.

Some residents have even displayed 'Vote NO' signs on their property to get their message across.

County consultants will be on hand before the July 15 vote to give an overview of the proposed village and to accept brief testimony from residents.

Gauging the community

'I'm not a betting woman,' said Kirsten Greene of Cogan Owens Cogan, 'but if I were, this would be a hard one to bet on.'

Otto says Boring has been quiet in the last several weeks, so it's hard to gauge which way the community is leaning.

'We're not hearing a lot of 'We're in favor' or 'We're against' at this point,' he said.

Despite the silence, Otto says he's feeling 'pretty optimistic' about the village, a turnaround from weeks and months past.

'I've heard from a lot of folks who are enthused about the village, saying they're going to support this and write letters to the editors. We're starting to hear from people who are tired of hearing the same (village-skeptic) things from the same people over and over,' Otto said. 'They're excited about the village.'

He continued, 'We are hearing form people outside the boundary who are frustrated they've been taken out of the boundary.' To them he says, 'When we're successful next week you'll have the opportunity to petition to be back in if you'd like.'

Strickland says the 'wind has been taken out of the sails' of the opposition movement due to the fact that certain areas of the Boring CPO have been removed from the proposed village boundaries. The boundary change - initiated by residents not wanting to be in the village - removed an estimated 800 households from the village.

Strickland and his like-minded neighbors believe that they should still be able to vote for or against the village, since the village was approved by commissioners based on the full CPO boundaries and the fact that the village could re-annex their property in the future.

Village skeptics aren't sure how the vote is going to go. 'Certainly the advantage is with the people who are for the village; they've controlled the campaign.'

But if the residents vote in favor of the village, Strickland says the debate isn't over.

'Our attorney is continuing to put together legal action,' he said. 'Certainly we'll have that as a recourse.' The Concerned Citizens of the Boring CPO hope to prove that the village process is unlawful and deserves to be stopped if not restarted.

No matter the outcome of the vote, one thing's for sure:

'I have been watching the (hamlet of) Beavercreek and up at (the Villages at) Mount Hood,' Otto said. 'Their voting tallies were less than 100 people voting in each case. I think Boring is going to break the record.'

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