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Damascus mayor seeks iron grip on city email

Damascus city councilors are getting closer to voting on new council rules that will give councilors more authority in how the government body operates.

But a new issue popped up during the Thursday, Nov. 15, work session.

City Manager Greg Baker asked for direction on a Wednesday, Nov. 14, email from Mayor Steve Spinnett in which the mayor directed Baker to have staff send him what appears to be a copy of any and all emails coming into or out of City Hall.

“I would like to becc’d on all City Manager correspondence with any member of city council, code development, department heads, CCI, councilor to councilor and any correspondence with other government organizations such as ODOT, DLCD, METRO etc.,” Spinnett wrote. “I would also like all communications to and from the city, city councilors and any other citizen committee that includes any communications with the public.

“I may have mentioned that before but I would like to be contacted and made aware of ALL interactions the city has with the public, such as meetings, potlucks etc.”

In closing he said he’d rather be cc’d on an ongoing basis than “rely on public information requests that put an additional burden on city staff.”

Spinnett was the only councilor absent due to a vacation, so Council President Diana Helm presided over the meeting.

Baker explained to the council that following the mayor’s directive would cripple the city from getting any work done. “It puts an extraordinary burden on the staff,” Baker said, adding that he’s confused and shocked by the email.

So was Helm. “Wow,” she said. “It’s insane. It’s paranoid. It’s scary. I don’t even understand it. This is just one more hurdle. If they feel they’re going to find a smoking gun let them go ahead and keep making public records requests. It’s reprehensible.”

“Or is this a form of harassment?” asked Councilor Marlo Dean.

After almost every councilor agreed the request was unreasonable, Helm asked Councilor Barbara Ledbury, who remained quiet, if she had something to say.

“No, I’m just so discouraged by it all,” she said, shaking her head.

In the end, the council determined the mayor’s directive was against council rules because it was made without consulting the council.

Rule changes

As for the proposed council rule changes, councilors agreed on some of the more minor ones, but are still ironing out the big one — how to maintain decorum during council meetings.

Councilors agreed to allow the city manager to set meeting agendas, with input from any councilor, not just the mayor. The mayor now sets the agenda with input from the city manager.

They want to require a council consensus for the mayor to schedule a public hearing. He is the only one authorized to so do now.

The issue of decorum, or rather how to maintain it, is a bit more complicated. Councilor Mary Wescott proposed language that would allow the council by a majority vote to appoint a presiding officer to maintain order and decorum in council chambers if the mayor is not doing so.

“We’re not trying to go around the mayor,” Helm said. “We want something more...” she continued, pausing to struggle for the right word, “functional,” Wescott said.

“Yes, functional,” Helm echoed.

Comments from citizens have grown increasingly hostile in recent months and Spinnett is failing to control the meetings, councilors have said.

In October, two citizens’ comments were interpreted at threats, prompting six-month bans from city property, including City Hall. The city lifted the ban within about a week. An attorney representing both citizens has filed torte claims against the city alleging the residents were targeted not only because of what they said but for being Spinnett supporters.

One resident told the council “Off, off, off with your heads,” while another referred to a cartridge box, or a gun during his comments.

Spinnett has questioned whether the proposed changes in regard to council decorum violate the city’s charter by removing the mayor’s authority to enforce order in council meetings and transferring it to a majority vote of council.

City Attorney Tim Ramis seems to agree with Spinnett. Having someone else preside over a meeting and dictate decorum is a “gray area,” Ramis said. Having a disruptive person removed is particularly problematic.

Councilor Marlo Dean suggested moving for a recess, or even ending the meeting if a meeting disintegrates to the extent that people need to be removed. “You might as well adjourn,” he said. “We leave, we’re done.”

“And what about the meeting after that?” asked Councilor Randy Shannon, pointing out that anyone who wants to hamstring city government would just create a scene, causing the council to adjourn and preventing it from ever getting anything done.

“You really think these are the kinds of meetings we’ll have for the next two years?” asked Councilor Barbara Ledbury, referring to Spinnett’s recent re-election to two more years in office.

“You think?” replied Wescott.

“It’s hard to see Damascus get to this point,” Ledbury said.

The rule changes are not expected to be voted on until early December.



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