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Bill Wehr

Bill Wehr, Damascus Council President

Landmark case: a city once again

The other day, as I was walking into a building, I noticed a handmade sign on the tailgate of a pickup truck. It proclaimed “ Damascus is back.” Yes, Damascus is back and completing steps to re-establish itself as a self-governing city in Clackamas County.

Over the period of several weeks we have accomplished:

• The appointment of a new Mayor and filling council vacancy seats.

• The appointment of a City Manager, City Attorney and Finance Director.

• The passing of the City budget of $1.738 million for fiscal year 2019-2020 by the City Council. This was submitted to Council by the Budget Committee, that included required citizen volunteers.

• The Council passed a resolution to receive its share of State revenue sharing from cigarettes, liquor and highway gas taxes.

• Entering into agreements with contractors to provide municipal services.

• The recognition of standing by and renewed membership in the League of Oregon Cities. From its website the LOC was “created in 1925 through an intergovernmental agreement of incorporated cities, the LOC is essentially an extended department of all 241 Oregon cities.”

Yet, in spite of this progress, there is formidable opposition to our efforts. Senate Bill 226, which now as of this writing, sits on the Governor’s desk, is the bill that corroborates the prior bills that forced the disincorporation vote on Damascus in 2016. This bill, 226, is incompatible with the Appeals Court unanimous decision on May 1, 2019 that the 2016 vote 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.” This bill, expected to be signed by the Governor, will not only not “ fix “ the problem, but lead to more confusion.

Clackamas County Commissioners appear to have dug their heels in and are not helping Damascus again become part of the Clackamas family of cities. They are holding firm in their letter to State legislatures on May 23, 2019: “ it is not possible to restore the city to its predisincorporation status.” The Commissioners are not accepting the ruling of the Appeals Court that confirmed Damascus’ Constitutional right of Home Rule Charter. To wit, by not recognizing Damascus as a city, it is difficult for Damascus to enter into intergovernmental agreements with service providers such as fire, police and water among others. The County is not returning city records and documents to the City. They have not opened up a channel of communication with the mayor and city manager to resolve various funding issues and assistance in coordinating the agreements necessary with Happy Valley. This has been continually requested by Damascus Mayor James De Young.

Mayor De Young is offering an olive branch for now. His key message is reconciliation. This is one path that can work, but it needs willing participants.

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