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What's Happening In
May 20, 2013 City Council Meeting
Dan Phegley's testimony
Damascus Citizens win big !
On March 11, 2013 a hearing was held before Judge Robert Herndon at the Clackamas County Court House. At issue was whether the ballot title for a measure to dissolve the Damascus City Charter conformed with the statutes defining the three parts of a ballot title. The three parts being the caption or title, the question and the summary.
While the caption of 10 words and the ballot question of 7 words were left as written by the city attorney the much larger 174 word summary was more the bone of contention as this is the real explanation of what will be voted for or against.
The law, ORS 250.035(1) says a summary shall be “A concise and impartial statement of not more than 175 words summarizing the measure and its major effect.”. Our argument, the summary as written by the city attorney was neither impartial nor reflected the major effect. Judge Herndon agreed. Ordering on March 14th the entire summary be removed and replaced with wording supplied by Dan Phegley of the citizens group “Ask Damascus” in its entirety.
“I do however find the petitioner's (Ask Damascus) proposed summary better identifies the issue and appropriately summarizes the consequences of either a yes or no vote.”
But the judge went further. It was exposed in court that David Jothen (past city councilor) and Chris Hawes (City Citizens Involvement Chair) had on March 1, filed a duplicate measure to dissolve the Damascus Charter. Their new measure even used the exact same wording as the one before the court. This raised concerns that Jothen and Hawes filed in order to get another faulty ballot title forcing Ask Damascus to use funds challenging that title also. Although their measure was not the subject before his court Judge Herndon warned them “Don't waste my time” and he would assess them an “enhanced prevalence fee” of $5,000.
Chris Hawes is proudly working to disincorporate and surrender the city of Damascus while chairing the Citizen Involvement Committee and has been vehemently opposed to all portions of the charter written and passed by City citizens.
Under Chris Hawes the Citizen Involvement Committee has vastly increased spending while getting diminished returns. They have hired Louise Neilson, who ran Mary Wescott's secret council meeting on April 21, 2012, as facilitator at $600 for each 2 hour town hall. They have also hired Robert Foster who got $2,205 last December for professional services. What were those services? And I am not making this up. When someone at a town hall speaks of planning something, say a bridge, he will draw a bridge in a pretty setting with trees so the audience can picture the subject of discussion. Attendance at these meetings has been sparse, approximately 35 if you count city officials and employees, 15 to 20 if you just count the citizens who regularly show up at all of these meetings. So, the city hired an intern to help boost attendance and paid her $4,056 per month. We now spend in excess of $5,000 per monthly meeting that attracts less than 20 citizens.
Mary Wescott now favors hiring a public relations firm while favoring dissolving your city and saying your spending limit will cripple essential services.
Why would she spend your money on a firm to convince you of the wonderful job she is doing while at the same time working to end your city charter ?
Terminating your charter and dissolving your city avoids an honest audit of spending which has never been done. While they have audited to see if books balance they have never been audited for fiduciary responsibility and proper spending. Remember, last December, she voted to give the city manager a $500,000 bonus in the event her disincorporation effort is successful.
To some past and present city councilors the perfect scenario is have friends purchased with tax dollars, then close the books avoiding pesky audits and disclosures.
And there is this gem
In a city email dated March 12, 2012 (just before Mary Wescott's secret meeting run by Louise Neilson) Louise writes to Community Development Director, John Morgan speaking of citizens and Ask Damascus, “I think the threat of disincorporation is the hammer they need over them to get them to even begin a negotiation.”
Thus, the tool of disincorporation is born, and secret meeting attendee Chris Hawes volunteers to carry the water.
The Clackamas County Court will hear arguments at 9:00 AM on March 11th
What about the (so called) challenge to the disincorporation of Damascus?
There is no challenge to the vote on disincorpration. That is an initiative petition that cannot be citizen challenged. The challenge is to the city written ballot title. That is the description appearing in the voters pamphlet. While ORS Oregon Revised Statute 221.650 requires all assets of the city be transferred to and for the use of the county. Much of the description of the ballot title indicates money will be given back to tax payers. That is false information. The reality is that nothing will be returned to tax payers. The intent of our challenge is to make clear the benefits and costs of this measure, something Damascus has not generally been inclined to do. In addition, as described in the following article (also published in the February edition of the NW Connection); property that City Councilor, Mary Wescott's family received your money for, will be transferred from your ownership to the county. Interestingly, Oregon is one of the few states which does not allow for the bankruptcy of a municipality. In other words, any debt or obligation must still be paid. And if you read the following article we do have debts and obligations which still require satisfaction and cannot be transferred to another jurisdiction.
While ask Damascus had just days to read, comprehend and dispute the ballot title, including filing with the county court and notifying the city attorney, the city attorney took a full month to respond choosing to do nothing and let the court handle it. Ask Damascus notified the city attorney on December 31st, along with filing with the court. The city attorney informed the court they would do nothing on January 30th. They took a full month before allowing the court to proceed.
You can see our challenge and the city response on our website. Please read the article for more detailed information. We have discovered additional significant costs, some of which are mentioned in the article.
By Dan Phegley
Damascus weighs the cost of disincorporation or surrendering one's charter.
Much is being said about surrendering the Damascus City Charter and saving all those tax dollars, but what and where are the real savings and the real cost?
In a January 2013 opinion ex councilor Diana Helm writes, “What do we have today that we didn't have eight years ago? Higher taxes.” Funny thing is during her 8 year stint on council she voted for all of those higher taxes. So why not follow her advice and just disincorporate, surrender our local Home Rule Charter and let other governments take care of us?
What we have that we did not have eight years ago is our Charter.
Our Charter guarantees the right to vote on all new taxes and fees and increases.
Our Charter guarantees payment for property taken from private parties.
Our Charter guarantees citizen access to the initiative process (Overruled Ordinance 2007-09)
Our Charter prohibits condemnation of private property for transfer to another private party.
Our Charter Guarantees City spending limits so debt cannot bury our future.
Our Charter guarantees the right to vote on a city plan before Metro or the State approval.
You might remember May of 2011 when citizens voted down a multi billion dollar Metro plan for our city. It was a plan being formed for our city before we were a city and enforceable whether a city was there or not. Neither Metro nor our councilors would discuss cost of the plan until they had passed it, at which point a councilor finally addressed cost and who will pay “...that's a political decision that we're going to have to make down the road...” (Randy Shannon Jan 2011 council Mtg).
Using our charter's guarantee of the right to the initiative, citizens brought this plan to a vote and it was turned down by about 2 to 1. Currently Damascus is the only city in the Metro region that has guaranteed right to vote on city plans because it is in the Charter.
Our charter saved us $10 Billion Dollars per Metro, 10/01/09 Portland Tribune “Price of Growth”, about $3 billion per Randy Shannon at the Jan 2011 council meeting referring to a study he could not locate. “Planning Paradise” a college text book (2011) used nationally for land use planning courses dedicated chapter 6 to a case study of Damascus. Their finding, “In 1995, the total estimated infrastructure cost to meet Metro's goals for Damascus stood at a staggering $15.8 billion dollars.” . That's 23.7 BILLION in todays dollars !
We are told by those supporting the plan not to worry. Developers pay the cost. However development includes little other than affordable high density housing (apartments) which themselves require subsidies.
Damascus currently can tax up to $3.88 per thousand dollars of value on property taxes and many say that is where our savings can be found. That figure is a bit misleading however as the city has never charged more than $3.30 per thousand and that figure has recently been reduced to $3.10.
Still that amount is quite a bit if nothing is being received as stated by proponents. I am not here to claim that Damascus has been a great deal under Team Secret style leadership but it would be good to discuss the cost versus advantages.
Do I get any taxes back if we disincorporate?
No. ORS 221.650 requires that all city property be given to the county for county use. That includes all cash accounts, real and personal property.
Do city taxes stop ?
Yes, kind of. Since the city picked up ownership and maintenance of many roads those costs/taxes will be renamed and collected by another jurisdiction. The same for all city supported law enforcement.
Winners or losers ?
Remember ORS 221.650 that requires all city property be given to the county?
You, citizens of Damascus purchased 19800 SE Damascus Lane from the Wescott family. It is currently valued by the county at $750,000 and councilor Mary Wescott's family has been paid. Just 30 days after wanting to be our Mayor and lead the city Mary decided to lead in the surrender of our Charter. This means by law the property you purchased from her would be taken and given to the county. The very place she will be going (if disincorporation is successful) to get permission for a downtown core development on her remaining property.
This is not the only property of yours that she is willing to give away. Did you know that Damascus also bought 14.3 acres at 18305 SE Vogel Road ? This includes a house, shop and swimming pool all to be given to the county after you paid for it.
Now it gets interesting !
On November 6, 2012 Mary Wescott loses out on being Damascus Mayor and leader. December 6, 2012 (Oregonian) Wescott announces support to surrender the City Charter saying “We thought we could build a 21st century city, a city that would shine, it's not possible.”. December 17, 2012 Wescott votes for a contract to give a group (Committee for the Future of Damascus) 18 months use of the property on Vogel Road, obligating the city for care and maintenance. Who is mentioned in the contract as an officer for this group? It is George Samaan the same person who on December 6th filed as chief petitioner to disincorporate the city. Why seek a contract from a city you intend to destroy?
Now the Bizarre
Mary Wescott on December 17, voted to change the contract for the City Manager, Greg Baker. This contract requires payment to Baker through December of 2014, and with benefits! Why would she do that while trying to end the city's very existence? But worse this same contract amendment requires an additional 12 months pay with benefits if he is terminated early without fault on his part. This gives Baker about $500,000 from taxpayers. Amazingly this gift to Baker is triggered if the city disincorporates!
Will Baker want success for Damascus if he receives a $500,000 bonus to have it fail and disincorporate? Apparently not, on January 3, 2012 Baker signed off on city payments for settling his conduct against 2 citizens threatening their arrest. Fortunately they settled for only attorney fees but another tort claim against Baker is looming, that’s 3 in just 6 months of employment. Imagine what he could do in two more years!
In Oregon no municipality can declare bankruptcy, that is constitutional so these debts and obligations cannot just be dismissed.
By Wescott's design we could have no city and still have full city taxes to cover giveaways.
Maybe Wescott's “city that would shine” is like a fairy in the old tales, they always shine but aren't really there.
Another Set Up?
Ask Damascus has brought the truth out and some do not appreciate it. There is a pattern of vindictiveness and retaliation. Why does Heather Steeves from the Oregonian care about signs in Damascus? Why doesn't she get both sides of stories? The Oregonian seems to have a stake in trying to discredit and villainize Ask Damascus as it also stepped up to the plate to try to discredit and villainize Mayor Spinnett and his wife Cindy. There is a pattern here that we hope the citizens of Damascus can see through.
Fool me once, shame on you
Fool me twice, shame on me
and a third time makes it a habit
This PDF shows the timeline of Heather's email asking for a reply from Dan Phegley. He did reply but Heather did not print it.
"Damascus disincorporation petition challenged in court" is the article title from Heather Steeves
No wonder there's misinformation out there.
The Challenge is to the disincorporation ballot title
(Another side note - The Ramis Attorney firm works in several cities that Metro's tenticals have crept to)
This is posted on Ask Damascus Facebook page:
So Heather from the Oregonian calls our home phone at 3:28 pm on the 15th to give Dan the opportunity to answer David Jothen's accusations. At about the same time she clicks "like" on the Ask Damascus Facebook page but no comment. At 4:51 pm on the 15th Bill Wehr calls, looks at the Oregonian online and the article is there. Interesting!? I don't make it a habit to read the Oregonian but historically they prove to be one sided. Dan responded to the Secretary of State who found David Jothen to be wrong on every count. The rest is in the article above.
We the People.....Home and Land Owners like you formed together to stop the
City of Damascus Council
from surrendering all planning to
Metro City Planning –
Based in Downtown Portland.
The following is the first paragraph of the Oregon Constitution:
Section 1. Natural rights inherent in people. We declare that men, when they form a social compact are equal in right: that all power is inherent in the people, and all free governments are founded on their authority, and instituted for their peace, safety, and happiness; and they have at all times a right to alter, reform, or abolish the government in such manner as they may think proper. --
Our mission is to remind all governments and organizations of what our founding Fathers thought was so important as to be the first thing written into the Constitution. People are more important than planners, people are more important than the convenience of city councils or Metro boards.
Governments govern at the convenience of the citizens.
GIVING POWER BACK TO THE CITIZENS OF