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New councilor, comprehensive plan next on agenda for Damascus

Residents vote to disincorporate but voter turn-out too low to pass the measure


Now that a measure to disincorporate the city of Damascus has failed on a technicality, Mayor Steve Spinnett is looking ahead toward what the city needs to do to move past the Nov. 5 election, in which residents voted 2-1 to stop being a city.

As of Wednesday, Nov. 6, 63.5 percent of voters, or 2,920 people, voted to disincorporate the city, which residents voted to form in 2004. A total of 1,681 Damascus residents, or 36.5 percent, voted against it.

But in order for Measure 3-433 to pass, more than half of the city's registered voters - not just those who cast a ballot in the Nov. 5 election - would have had to vote for it, according to county elections officials. That requirement was not met.

To have jumped the legislative hurdle would have equired 3,442 yes votes, or a voter turn-out of about 75 percent, said Chris Hawes, campaign manager of the Citizens Committee for Disincorporation and a former city volunteer. As of Wednesday afternoon, voter turn-out was 68.16 percent.

"Last night was a win for the citizens of Damascus," said Damascus City Councilor Bill Wehr who campaigned against the measure in a prepared statement released the morning after the election. "The city will continue to go forward with making local decisions that impact our lives. We are looking forward to improving the way government is run and that will give back to the community."

Spinnett said the city now plans to find and appoint a seventh city councilor to fill a vacancy left by Mary Wescott, who resigned in outrage this summer when councilors forced former city manager Greg Baker to resign. The new appointment is expected to fulfill the rest of Wescott's term, which expires in 2014.

Spinnett also expressed excitement about progress being made on two comprehensive plans that the city will present to voters next spring. Although he described the process to adopt a comprehensive plan as a marathon, "We're close to the finish line," he said. "Let's push through."

Hawes agreed with Wehr that the election was a win for Damascus residents because it gave them a chance to voice their opinion on whether to disincorporate the city.

"We are both proud and pleased that so many citizens agreed with our campaign, and chose to end the dysfunction and discord that has become a hallmark of the city government," Hawes said in a press release. "It is unfortunate that an artificial barrier created by the legislature can nullify the obvious will of the people."

If the measure passed, the city would have reverted back to being governed as unincorporated Clackamas County, which is what the area was before voters agreed to form a city in 2004.

Residents feared the area would lose its pastoral luster if they did not have a say in how it is developed. So instead of waiting for Gresham or Happy Valley to annex it, the community opted to create its own city complete with a new city tax.

Since then, those growth projections that caused Metro to bring the area within its regional urban growth boundary proved too optimistic. Future development that Damascus residents wanted a say in never materialized. Meanwhile, dysfunctional dynamics on the city council have prevented the city from making any progress in.

Disincorporation proponents say the city has little to show for city taxes residents now pay and blame a long running lack of leadership that dates back to shortly after the city formed.

Now, the city is governed by a deadlocked six-member city council that recently agreed to put two vastly different comprehensive plans before voters likely in May – only to have another councilor announce he's spearheading an effort to place yet another option for a more balanced comprehensive plan on the March ballot.

Hawes said city councilors are going to have to do some damage control in light of the election results. "The question will now become what the city council will do in response to an obvious repudiation of the leadership of this city," Hawes said. "The citizens of Damascus have presented a vote of no confidence in the elected officials. That message should be very clear."

Spinnett disagreed with Hawes that the vote voiced a lack of confidence in city leaders. "I just really disagree with that," Spinnett said. "... I think it's time for the city to mend and proceed."



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