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Wording of Damascus initiative challenged

A Damascus political activist has challenged the wording of a proposed initiative that — if approved — would disincorporate the city.

Dan Phegley of Damascus is challenging the proposed ballot title, as well as other information that summarizes its intent on grounds that it is not thorough enough.

His attorney, Bruce McCain, in a nine-page petition filed in Clackamas County Circuit Court on Dec. 31, states the ballot title caption — Vote to Determine Whether to Disincorporate the City of Damascus — is insufficient because it doesn’t explain that disincorporation also would surrender the city charter and result in all city property being transferred to Clackamas County.

He objects to the ballot title question — “Shall the City of Damascus be Disincorporated?” — calling it insufficient and unfair, in part because it is too concise. Whereas there is no obligation to use the maximum word count of 20 for local measure questions, there is a benefit to voters to give them as much information as possible to make an informed decision.

Phegley also questions whether the city will even be eligible for disincorporation, even if voters approve it, because Damascus can only disincorporate if it is “not liable for any debt or other obligations.” He cites City Manager Greg Baker’s recently renegotiated contract, which guarantees him one year of salary and health benefits, if the city disincorporates.

“This contract alone is both a debt and an obligation that may prevent the city from disincorporating ...” the petition reads.

He also said the summary statement should explain that disincorporation will result in the loss of services now provided by the city, such as law enforcement.

The city has not yet responded to the filing and a judge could decide how the proposed ballot language is worded.

Damascus residents in 2004 voted to create a city out of the area’s 18,000 acres to have more control over how it is developed. Metro had expanded the regional growth boundary to include Damascus, earmarking it as a potential suburb ripe for development.

But residents and city leaders have been unable to agree on a comprehensive plan. And Metro officials have said they overestimated growth projections for the Damascus area.

On Dec. 6, two Damascus residents filed paperwork to start the process of disincorporating the city.

But before they can start collecting signatures needed to place the initiative on the November 2013 ballot, the ballot title, question and summary must be finalized.

Former City Councilor David Jothen, who supports disincorporation, called Phegley’s filing a hypocritical attempt to stall the process.

Phegley, as leader of the Ask Damascus political action committee, has spearheaded many successful local measures and charter amendments that focused on allowing citizens to vote on all decisions in Damascus, Jothen said.

“We are saddened by the fact that apparently the citizen’s voice and opinion only matter when the initiatives come from their group, and wonder why now they would deny the citizens a voice and a vote,” Jothen said in a prepared statement to the media.

When reached by phone, he added that Phegley’s filing is just a legal maneuver to either delay and throw off the disincorporation effort.

“All we’re saying is let the people decide,” Jothen said. “Let them vote.”




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