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Judge rules against disincorporation of Damascus

Declares November election valid


Clackamas County Circuit Deanne Darling has ruled that a challenge to the November 2013 election to disincorporate Damascus was invalid, and she defined what an elector means.

The election to disincorporate received a majority of votes cast, but the election was ruled invalid because it was not a majority of registered voters.

Chris Hawes, who led the charge to disincorporate, filed the lawsuit against the city of Damascus shortly after the election was declared invalid.

Darling heard arguments two weeks ago and ruled April 25. She explained her decision in a two-page letter to attorneys for Hawes and the defendant, the city of Damascus.

Darling wrote that the rule for “super majority” of voters prevailed and an elector is defined “as a person qualified to vote...an elector is not defined as someone who actually voted. There are 6,879 registered voters in the city. If 3,441 had voted yes, the measure would pass. Only 2,047 voted yes. In that a majority of electors did not authorize the disincorporation — the city's conclusion is correct.”

Damascus Mayor Steve Spinnett issued a letter stating, in part, “The cloud of dissolving the city is removed” by the decision.

Spinnett then went on to plug his comprehensive development plan, one of three that will be on the May 20 ballot.

“Damascus needs at least 50 percent of voters to turn out and at least 50 percent voting yes on any one of the plans,” he wrote.

But Hawes disagrees with Darling's decision.

“Obviously, we're disappointed with the decision from the judge and would like to have seen it gone in the other direction,” he said. “I still believe, in everything I've seen, I have yet to see anything in statutes of the Legislature intending to create with a supposed super majority.”

A “super majority” is what Darling defined by asserting that more than half of registered voters must approve the vote, Hawes said, the 50 percent of voters described by Spinnett would be a double majority, with the November election results reflecting a simple majority.

“Their standard of 50 percent plus one of all registered voters has never been applied to another election anywhere in Oregon,” he said.

But the Legislature has set the bar higher for disincorporation, “an extraordinary act,” Darling wrote and the bar is higher than for a voters' initiative on the ballot. While getting the issue on the ballot took an initiative process, Darling wrote, “it does not make the disincorporation petition an initiative petition...an initiative petition is limited in purpose. It can create statutes or amend the constitution. Nothing more.”

However, Darling signaled that disincorporation laws could be changed or redefined, either by an act of the Legislature or a vote of the people, and paid Hawes a compliment.

“If this case serves to assist the Legislature in clarifying the issue and their intent regarding disincorporation elections, then Mr. Hawes' case has served the public well,” Darling wrote.

But Hawes isn't done yet. He called in an email addressed to “fellow citizens” for a rally at 5:45 p.m. Thursday, May 1 in front of KeyBank in Damascus for “citizens to continue our fight for our rights and freedoms.” He said Rep. Shemia Fagan will be on hand along with TV news crews.

Hawes is talking with his legal team about how they interpret the judge's decision, he said, and “the avenues for moving up to the Court of Appeals.”

“We are not finished by any means and we are committed to ending this nightmare,” he wrote. “We are currently working on a response to the council suing the people. Seems like we might need a new council.”


This story was updated to add new information.