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Damascus should never surrender local advocacy

To disincorporate or not to disincorporate? That is the paramount question on the minds of every registered voter in the city of Damascus. Judging by the 300 or so people who turned out on a Saturday morning at a voters forum at Clear Creek Elementary School, this is a topic that’s garnering a great deal of attention.

In the Nov. 5 mail-in election (ballots will be mailed to voters on Oct. 18), the residents of Damascus will decide whether to scrap their young city government, or whether to forge onward with their city government into the great unknown.

We think the issue of disincorporation is not easily resolved with narrow black and white answers: This is a complicated issue that certainly has benefits for some and negatives for others. Depending on where you live in in Damascus, how you make your living, or what you want to do with your undeveloped real estate will determine whether or not disincorporation makes sense for your individual circumstances.

But we believe disincorporation should be considered as the last resort — the symbolic “final straw on the camel’s back.” To some folks, Damascus has already reached that point — no real progress in nine years, no comprehensive plan, no investment in infrastructure, and little to show for a lot of annual expense. To these folks, the Damascus of today looks strikingly similar to the Damascus of 2004 when it incorporated out of rural Clackamas County. To the proponents of disincorporation, there isn’t much to lose by giving up the city.

Oh! But there is.

The arguments for disincorporation seem to center on the costs associated with installation of water and sewer lines. They argue that those costs — measured in the tens or hundreds of millions of dollars — will impede development for years to come. But by itself, that’s not enough reason to disincorporate.

At some point — in the near or not so near future — development will come to Damascus. This was the argument in favor of incorporation in 2004. And it remains the best argument against dissolving the city in 2013.

Development is inevitable. It will happen when Happy Valley and Gresham reach their saturation points and the outward push of a growing population turns its focus on Damascus.

At that point, the city of Damascus would exist to be its own, best advocate. If the city is dissolved, the decisions on how development takes shape will fall to Clackamas County, with guidance from the Metro regional government. Those are good folks, but they don’t share the same personal connections to Damascus as the people who live within its border. There is great value to having a local advocate. And that’s something the residents of Damascus should strive to protect and preserve.

There may be some in Damascus who base their motives for disincorporation on the antics of the presiding mayor and his political allies. As tempting as it is to agree with them, it would be misguided to use this as a reason to dissolve a city. We hope the voters look beyond their immediate frustrations as they choose how to vote on this issue.

We’ll be the first to agree that Mayor Steve Spinnett and others in his corner are at the epicenter of what has become a dysfunctional and cartoonish city government. The word “exasperating” comes to mind.

But eventually, people like Spinnett will be voted out or will leave of their own choosing. Eventually, there will be another mayor, and then another. And the City Council itself will change its complexion over time. Like all things, the Spinnett years will be a thing of the past.

We have come to view the Damascus angst as the inevitable growing pains of a city that has reached its adolescence in its search for its own identity.

In the past year, the city came close to agreeing on a comprehensive plan that would guide the decisions of future city councils. With some luck, the town may yet come to agreement on the plan.

What this town needs are a few victories and a lot fewer headlines out of the mayor’s office. What this town needs is forward momentum. Nine years is not enough time to say Damascus has been a failed experiment. Nine years is too soon to throw in the towel.

Damascus residents should vote no on Measure 3-433.




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  • 26 Dec 2014

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