In a letter from Clackamas County Board of Commissioners to State legislators on May 23, 2019 the Commissioners requested an ominous “ final resolution “ to ending the city. The Commissioners claim in the letter that “ it is not possible to restore the city to its predisincorporation status.” In other words, find a political legislative fix to dig them out of the legal hole they are in.
The Commissioners are trying to come to grips with the Appeals Court unanimous ruling of May 1, 2019 that the Damascus disincorporation vote of 2016 forced on the City by the State legislature was illegal. Not only illegal, but the Court ruled that the city should return to ” resume their home rule constitutional right to self-governance.”
When Damascus surrendered its City Charter, all of its assets, including approximately $8.4 million in cash, real estate property and office equipment went to the County. The County then over time spent all the cash and sold off the real estate for a low ball fire sale price to the Fire District on a non open bid process. Of the cash, $2 million was for former Damascus employees and continuation of law enforcement services. Approximately $2.9 million for road maintenance and $3.4 million refunded to to taxpayers.
Damascus is now left with zero cash or any other assets. The County had a fiduciary responsibility to Damascus taxpayers that the money would be handled in a trustworthy manner. The County Commissioners knew that the suit by James De Young that challenged the State forced ballot measure was pending a decision by the Appeals Court. Why did it not place the cash and real estate in escrow until this was resolved?
Instead of trying to burrow its way out problems, the Commissioners should rush to the aid of rebuilding Damascus to its rightful position as a self governing important city in the Clackamas landscape. It should open up communication with the Damascus Council and the new City Manager. There are issues to resolve. Among them are:
- Identify and assist in retrieving all income streams available to Damascus. This would include coordinating with the State.
- Recapturing the pro-rated loss of city income for years 2016-2019.
- Solution of the return of cash sent to the County in 2019 in violation of City Charter.
- The return of city records and documents given to County.
- Return of office equipment and fixtures.
- Just compensation for the sale of Damascus real estate by the Commissioners.
- Compensation for the loss of approximately 1000 acres of property annexed by Happy Valley.
- Assistance in coordinating agreements with Happy Valley.
Newly appointed Damascus Mayor James De Young said it most succinctly – “ Like a wrongly accused prisoner who spent 3 years in prison and then was declared innocent and released, what does he do? So the City was “imprisoned” for 3 years: no monies, no property, its name slandered, no employees no place of meeting; but by the grace of Providence we do have a future and destiny to fulfill.”