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Damascus responds to objections to disincorporation ballot title


After a month-long wait, city of Damascus legal representatives have responded to a political activist’s complaint that a proposed ballot title doesn’t do a good enough job explaining the effects of disincorporation.

Dan Phegley of Damascus on Dec. 31 challenged the wording of a proposed ballot title that, if approved by voters, would disincorporate the city. His attorney, Bruce McCain, filed the challenge in Clackamas County Circuit Court on the grounds that 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.

Phegley objects to the ballot title question — “Shall the City of Damascus be Disincorporated?” — calling it unfair, in part because it is too concise. The title can have as many as 20 words and Phegley thinks if more words were added, the title would provide more information, allowing voters to make better informed decisions.

For example, disincorporation will result in the loss of services now provided by the city, such as law enforcement.

City Manager Greg Baker’s recently renegotiated contract, guaranteeing him one year of salary and health benefits if the city disincorporates, also could make the city ineligible for disincorporation because the city can only disincorporate if it is “not liable for any debt or other obligations,” according to the complaint.

The city had a month to respond to the complaint, and on Jan. 30 it drafted a reply to the Clackamas County Trial Court Administrator.

“This office believes that the existing ballot meets all the statutory requirements ...,” wrote Jordan Ramis, city attorney.

A judge will decide how the proposed ballot title should proceed, either by scheduling a hearing or issuing a written memorandum, McCain said.

In any case, it means the proponents of disincorporation will have to wait longer before they can begin collecting the signatures needed to place the ballot before voters in November.

Damascus residents in 2004 voted to create a city out of the area’s 18,000 acres in order 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.

Frustrated by the lack of progress, among other things, two Damascus residents on Dec. 6 filed the paperwork to start the process of disincorporating the city.

When Phegley filed his ballot title challenge, disincorporation supporters called it a stall tactic.

But Phegley said it shouldn’t take the city so long to draft a two-sentence, one-page response that says little more than we will see you in court.

Now it seems that the city is the one stalling the process, Phegley said. “It’s just political posturing,” he said.