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Damascus council members are denying citizens their basic rights

Who gets to vote in Damascus?

At the March 7 Damascus City Council meeting, four city councilors directed the city attorney to research ways to keep certain citizens from having their votes counted in the May 17 disincorporation election.

Chris HawesIt was witnessed by a standing room only crowd that had gathered because of threats by certain councilors to challenge the May vote.

It seems the civic enterprise of Damascus is a gift that keeps on giving.

In 2014 some of these citizens tried to deannex using the expedited process allowed by state law (HB 4029). Councilor Jim DeYoung objected, and invited them to reapply using the regular ORS Chapter 222 deannexation process. Then the council sued those people, costing them thousands of dollars to defend their rights. The property owners filed Chapter 222 applications, and DeYoung has voted against all but one of them. Exactly none of us were surprised.

Now Councilors Debra Stevens, DeYoung, Dave Hadley and Bill Wehr want to disenfranchise 306 citizens and property owners who tried to deannex using the HB 3084 process passed by the Legislature, but the city declined to complete the process.

The deannexation process is not complete when the City Council approves the application for a property. The boundary map must be revised, submitted to the Department of Revenue for review, and after approval the department notifies the county elections office that the city boundary has changed, as has the city voting eligibility of the property owners.

Although there was a Damascus city staff member who could do the maps, and had done so for some applicants, the staff told council in December that it would cost $30,000 to hire an outside contractor to complete the maps for these citizens.

The council declined to pay for the maps, and told the citizens that they would have to pay the $30,000 themselves, after paying legal fees when they were sued by the previous City Council. Those citizens decided that it would cheaper to help disincorporate the city, and accomplish their goal that way.

At the March 7 meeting, Councilor Stevens said she felt it wouldn’t be “fair” for these people to vote on the future of a city they had asked to leave. She did not explain why it was “fair” to do maps for some applicants, but not others, nor if this new “fair” restriction would apply to people who are trying to sell their homes and leave Damascus behind.

None of the four councilors explained why the council’s refusal to pay for the maps was fine, but the citizens making the exact same choice was unfair.

None explained why it was fair for these citizens to have paid more than $200,000 in 2015-16 Damascus city property taxes, but shouldn’t be allowed to vote.

Rather than using some of those taxes to revise the needed maps, these four councilors are now wasting tax dollars with the city attorney to try to deny taxpayers the right to vote in a city they are citizens of, and paid taxes to.

Those 306 citizens are being disenfranchised with their own taxes.

Is anyone still unclear as to why we intend to disincorporate Damascus? The latest reasons are named Debra Stevens, Dave Hadley, Bill Wehr and Jim DeYoung.

Chris Hawes lives in Damascus and is communications director for Citizens Committee for Disincorporation.