Mayor Spinnett boycotts special meeting

Damascus Mayor Steve Spinnett has confirmed he deliberately missed a meeting to keep a competing petition-driven comprehensive development plan off the November ballot.

The mayor's version of the comp plan had already been placed on the ballot after it got the most votes in the May 20 election when three comp plans were on the ballot. The three plans were the mayor's plan, which leans heavily toward development, the council president's plan favoring environmental concerns and the 2013 plan, sponsored by a grassroots group of residents called Move Damascus Forward, headed by Richard Johnson.

City Councilor Jim De Young had called a special meeting for the night of Tuesday, Aug. 5, for the council to place the 2013 comp plan on the ballot, but Spinnett called at the last minute to say he would not attend.

Two councilors, Bill Wehr and Andrew Jackman, were on vacation and did not come to the meeting, resulting in the lack of a quorum, so no binding vote could be taken.

In addition to De Young, those present were Councilors Randy Shannon and Dan Tomlinson.

Spinnett confirmed he deliberately missed the meeting, but said he didn't do anything illegal. He said he was aware that Aug. 5 was the deadline to get the 2013 plan on the ballot, but the council is only obligated to hear the matter at a regularly scheduled meeting, and no regular meetings were scheduled this month.

“I never said I would be at the meeting,” Spinnett said. “I didn't tell him one way of the other.”

Whether or not the City Council had approved the plan didn't matter. The 2013 comp plan, the one originally developed through years of public meetings and paid for by taxpayers, withstood a court challenge to its ballot title by the city and was recently qualified by Clackamas County with enough signatures to be placed on the ballot.

According to De Young, the council had two options: adopt the 2013 comp plan or refer it to the ballot as a citizens' initiative. But not having a quorum for the meeting forestalled either action.

De Young said the mayor did that on purpose, knowing that Aug. 5 was the 90-day deadline for getting a measure on the ballot.

De Young called another meeting for Wednesday, Aug. 6, but again the mayor and two other councilors did not show up and again the lack of a quorum was called.

In a statement sent via email, Spinnett explained his reasons for his absence at the meeting, saying De Young has not built “a rapport” with the rest of the council.

“Council rules give Councilor De Young the ability to call for a special meeting. Nothing requires other members of council to respond. Mr. De Young has not cared to build a rapport with us on council to the point where we would want to cancel other plans to attend his meeting."

De Young described Spinnett's absence from the meeting as a tactic to keep the 2013 plan off the ballot.

Last month, the city's volunteer planning director, Mark Fitz, waiting until the last possible day to object to the ballot title of the 2013 plan, which was finally approved by a judge with a few tweaks. That left only a few days for Johnson's group to gather more than 300 signatures needed to get the plan on the ballot. But they succeeded, and the “referral,” or submission, of the 2013 plan by the City Council was the last step needed to get it on the ballot.

Now De Young and Johnson are waiting to hear from legal counsel as to what their next move should be.

Johnson called Spinnett's refusal to attend the meeting “horrible,” and said he had checked with the city recorder and learned the tactic is a first in Damascus city government history.

“By law, this is the process,” he said. “They can either adopt or reject (the 2013 comp plan) but they still have to refer it to the ballot for November.

Johnson added, "The arrogance of his (Mayor Spinnett's) power of authority is just outrageous."

In the meantime, a judge in Salem heard arguments Aug. 6 in a lawsuit the city of Damascus brought against the state challenging House Bill 4029, which allows citizens on the periphery of the city to de-annex. A ruling will be made later.

The bill, which passed earlier this year, is widely seen as punishment by the Legislature for the failure of Damascus to submit a comprehensive development plan since it was incorporated in 2004.

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