Many residents want to leave the city

A standing room only crowd at the Damascus City Council meeting Tuesday, April 7, applauded loudly after a series of residents voiced their disappointment with city leaders during the public comments period.

Jim Syring, who said he had been a resident of Damascus for all of his 53 years, said he supported House Bill 4029, recently passed by the Legislature, which allows for some residents of Damascus to “de-annex” from the city and join other jurisdictions.

The bill was in response to Damascus’ failure to file a comprehensive growth plan since it was incorporated in 2004.

Syring told the council he had gathered 100 signatures on a petition to support HB 4029 and objected that the council was using taxpayer money to fight de-annexation.

“We have a right to choose what city we want to govern us,” he said.

Henry Brown spoke next, saying he had testified before a Senate committee to support HB 4029.

“When I tell somebody I’m from Damascus, my next sentence is that it’s the poster child for dysfunctional government,” he said.

Dean Apostle then spoke and said the town was finished.

“I’m a former member of the code committee which resigned en masse almost a year ago today,” Apostle said.

Apostle referred to a majority vote to disincorporate the city in November 2013 — a vote the city disallowed since it said the vote didn’t meet “super majority” requirements, meaning that not enough registered voters approved disincorporation, even though a majority of those who cast votes approved it. The city is facing a lawsuit challenging that election.

“Stop fighting the people. Stop using our money to fight in court what we voted for and what we approved overwhelmingly,” Apostle said. “Don’t use our money to fight de-annexation. This is a failed experiment. We’ve been at this 10 years, and we’ve spent millions of dollars with no plan and no prospects for a plan ... This place is dead. Bury it and let’s go out with some grace. Don’t fight the people; the people have spoken.”

Richard Johnson also criticized the council for not developing a comp plan.

He referred to the Damascus Planning Commission’s original comprehensive plan that will be on the May 20 ballot along with two other plans, one sponsored by the mayor and the other by council president Andrew Jackman.

Johnson collected more than 600 signatures get the original comp plan put on the ballot, he said, which staff and volunteers worked on for years. Johnson said the council should be ashamed for pushing its own two plans.

“You have done a great disservice to push your plans when they (staff and volunteers) put in thousands of hours,” he said. “It isn’t the plan of the citizens. How can you sit there and do what you have done? You are going to reap what you sow. You’ve already heard from people who want to pull out of the city. It’s like an onion being peeled and the city will disappear ... You should be more than ashamed of yourselves for what you’ve done.”

Johnson, who heads the group Move Damascus Forward, said after the meeting he hopes people will support the citizens’ initiative comp plan on the May 20 ballot so the city can move forward.

He said the Johnson Creek Watershed Council supports the citizen comp plan and that he hopes to convince those who voted for disincorporation that the city is more important than who is currently in office.

“People in leadership can disappear at any time and they’re not there forever,” he said. “Cities are important but people in office come and go.”

After a couple more people spoke, the council returned to regular business. Later in the meeting, Councilor Jim De Young acknowledged the comments.

“A number of people are deeply concerned about the future of Damascus,” he said. “What can we do? It behooves us to explore what opportunities we have to rectify past errors and come to a better plan for the future.”

The city also has been sanctioned by the Land Conservation and Development Commission for failing to file a comp plan, and as of April 1, the LCDC is withholding $300,000 the city received in the past for planning purposes.

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