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Damascus council refuses to let residents leave

Kennemer, Fagan spoke at rally to support de-annexations


by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: BEVERLY CORBELL - Damascus resident Hank Brown, right, is surprised when he served with a subpoena from the City of Damascus in the middle of his speech at a rally Thursday, May 1. The city is suing Brown and other residents who want to secede from the city. Damascus is also suing the governor, the state, Portland Metro and Clackamas County on the grounds that new legislation to allow de-annexation is unconstitutional. Reps. Shemia Fagan and Bill Kennemer also spoke at the rally.Despite speeches from two state representatives and a demonstration that drew scores of supporters, the Damascus City Council turned down all four requests at the first of its de-annexation hearings May 1. The vote was 4-1 in each case, with Councilor Andrew Jackman voting no each time.

The council's position is that recently passed House Bill 4029, which allows the de-annexations, is unconstitutional. The city has filed a lawsuit on those grounds against all who have applied to de-annex (plus 100 future applicants) as well as the governor, the state, Clackamas County and Portland Metro.

People are filing for de-annexation — most want to join Happy Valley — because they can't develop their land and have trouble selling it. That's because Damascus, incorporated in 2004, has yet to produce a comprehensive plan to guide development, and the bill is widely seen as punishment by the state for the city's failure to submit plan. The state's Department of Land Conservation and Development also chastised the city by withholding $300,000 in development funding this year.

The city had completed one comp plan developed over several years through formal planning processes with public hearings, but it was rejected by the council and voters.

But then the original plan became the basis for two new plans — one sponsored by the mayor and the other by the council president Jackman — which will appear on the May 20 ballot, placed there by the City Council. The original plan will also be on the ballot, but only because of a voter petition drive.

The new de-annexation law, passed earlier this year, allows people with land on the city's borders to de-annex and join another jurisdiction. After they do, their contiguous neighbors can follow suit. To date, about 45 people have submitted applications to de-annex from Damascus.

Reps. Bill Kennemer and Shemia Fagan, both sponsors of the bill, spoke to a crowd of about 100 who gathered outside Damascus City Hall before the hearings began under a banner that read, “House Bill 4029. A Win for the People!” Most in the crowd also carried signs with legends that included, “Let our people go!” and “Recall Council!” and “Respect Our Rights!”

Although the City Council is fighting the effects of HB 4029, the law states that even though the council turned down the de-annexers, they can leave anyway. According to the bill, if the city refuses or fails to withdraw the property from its boundaries within 30 days, “The withdrawal of the tract is deemed complete.”

The first person to apply for de-annexation was Hank Brown, whose case was heard last night and who was surprised to be served with a subpoena from the city — in the middle of a speech he was giving at the rally. His wife Valerie Brown was also served in front of the laughing, hooting crowd.

“The mayor started this,” Brown said. “The mayor says it's just a complaint, but we're being sued. It's time to engage.”

When it was his turn to testify during the hearing, Brown told the crowded council chamber that the firm of Davis Wright Tremaine would represent all the landowners and they should contact him for details.

Before the rally began, Kennemer said he had sponsored HB 4029 because he thought it would give people hope for getting their land rights restored and to be an incentive for the Damascus City Council to come together, but “that hasn't happened,” he said.

“Nobody's going to lose their home and you do not scare people,” Kennemer said. “You do not treat people mean and to litigate against individuals is just plain wrong.”

He echoed those statements during his speech to the crowd.

“The government is supposed to be here to serve people, but I don't think they're serving them,” he said.

Fagan compared the de-annexers to followers of Moses trying to leave and the City Council to the pharaoh holding them back, but said the issue is even broader.

“This is not supposed to be a story about politics, this is about retirement security, it's about job creation,” she said. “There are companies that want to build in Damascus, and it's about schools. Most people just want peace. We will stand with you to the end. You are on the right side of this.”

When the hearing began, the council heard a description of each of the four properties to be considered.

They included 2.2 acres on Southeast Cottingham Lane owned by Hank and Valerie Brown, 2.91 acres on Southeast Vogel Road belonging to Jeffry Kent and Ardith Elane Olson, 24 acres owned by General Distributors, and 229.6 acres owned by Lowell Patton.

The council quibbled over whether Patton's land was contiguous and could be considered, but in the end, as with the others, denied the request.

“I've owned this property for over 40 years and would like to do something with it,” Patton said.

It looks like he may have that chance now, according to Jim Syring of Citizens for De-Annexation, who organized and emceed the rally. Syring wrote an email that a Marion County Circuit Court judge on Friday, May 2, “...ruled against the city's attempts to block the de-annexations via an injunction and restraining order and ruled in favor of the people.”

Whether the city continues to fight the de-annexations remains to be seen. Councilor Randy Shannon said he is firm in believing the new law is unconstitutional.

“To me this law appears to be blatantly unconstitutional,” he said. “In the 1950s, Cornelius had almost the identical situation and at this point I intend to vote for all orders to be denied because I believe it's unconstitutional.”

To which Jackman responded, “I understand your passion for the constitution but I'm overwhelmed by the will of the people,” he said.


This story was updated to reflect further reporting.




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