Councilors unwilling to break 3-3 statemate; reopen pool for more applicants

Andrew JackmanRandy ShannonDamascus city councilors will not appoint a replacement to a vacant seat on the council until after the November election when voters decide on whether the city should disincoporate.

The decision came during the Monday, Aug. 19, council meeting.

Instead of appointing a new councilor from four applicants for the empty seat, Council President Andrew Jackman called to suspend the search “due to an inadequate applicant pool” and was supported by a unanimous vote.

“We all agreed that there was nobody that we thought was even close to being qualified,” Mayor Steve Spinnett said.

The decision was received with murmurs from the crowd.

The seat was left empty in May by the abrupt resignation of Mary Wescott in the wake of the forced resignation of embattled City Manager Greg Baker. Since then, the council has been split 3-3 on a variety of votes, including a critical vote on whether to approve a comprehensive plan, which also would have appeared on the November ballot.

With Wescott’s seat to remain vacant, citizens, councilors and candidates have expressed frustration.

“In a different situation, there was one or two candidates I could have supported,” Shannon said. “But when we have such an intractable division on council, I didn’t see a possibility on either side of being able to support the same candidate. I didn’t see any candidates in all good conscience that I could support because it would break the 3-3 to the wrong side.”

Council applicant David Hadley said he was discouraged by the decision and could not understand Jackman’s justification.

“He has been there several years and hasn’t accomplished anything that I know of, so who is he to call us inadequate?” Hadley said. “This is the most dysfunctional group I’ve seen in my entire life.”

With only six councilors, Shannon said he foresees “continued deadlock” as the group proceeds in the coming months.

O’Brien disagreed and said, “An even number of councilors does have its drawbacks at times perhaps, but when an item is passed, there is more consensus than with a 4-3 vote.”

Chris Hawes, a Damascus resident who is heading the disincorporation effort, said he doubts the council is going to find additional candidates come November.

“I’m not sure how they’re going to get more people to throw their hat in the ring,” Hawes said. “Especially given the situation in Damascus, to think you’re going to get 25 to 30 people to volunteer is delusional.”

The council also addressed three vacancies on the city’s budget committee, which also has been plagued with resignations, on Monday night. In June, to protest the city manager’s departure, two budget committee members resigned, as did six of nine volunteers on the Committee for Citizen Involvement.

On Monday night, Spinnett motioned to reappoint Andrew Morrison, whose term expired at the end of June. He also motioned to appoint a new member, Marc Delabruere, to replace John Fromwiller, whose term also expired on June 30.

But Jackman and Shannon objected, saying they were confused by Spinnett’s refusal to reappoint one committee member but not the other.

Although Fromwiller reapplied for his seat on the budget committee, only the mayor can motion for a candidate to be appointed or reappointed.

Because Spinnett moved to appoint Delabruere, a new member, he was the only candidate the council could vote on.

Jackman said he could not “in good spirit” vote for Spinnett’s two candidates because he believes “when everybody thinks alike, nobody thinks very much.”

Spinnett responded by saying he could not submit to an “ultimatum” and told Jackman, “When you back somebody in a corner, they come out fighting.”

In the end, the council voted 4-2 to appoint Morrison and Delabruere, with Jackman and Shannon voting no and Councilors O’ Brien, Bill Wehr and Jim De Young voting yes with Spinnet.

“These are good people — all three of them,” De Young said. “I will support the other two and vote yes.”

Morrison will serve another three-year term, while Delabruere will fill Fromwiller’s expired term for the next three years, assuming voters opt against disincorporating in November.

To address the remaining two vacancies on the budget committee, Spinnett said applications will reopen online.

Before adjourning the meeting, Shannon motioned to revisit the comprehensive plan on Sept. 3. De Young seconded the motion and said, “It’s important to give the people the opportunity to vote.” The motion failed with a 4-2 vote.

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