Oregon City staff face discipline following land-use lawsuit
Oregon City staff faced unspecified disciplinary action after one of the city's own Planning Commission members sued over a violation of the statewide rule to approve development proposals within 120 days, newly-released documents show.
Following an August hearing on the city's request to dismiss the case, Clackamas County Circuit Judge Ulanda L.Â Watkins rejected the city's attempt to get the lawsuit thrown out. Watkins will instead be holding another hearing to determine whether to order the city to issue permits as requested because the required timeline was violated.
As previously reported, Oregon City's attorney wrote that the developer and Planning Commission member "deviated significantly from the approved design, and what he built did not match what he said he would build." Oregon City is telling the court that Oregon law provides a "grace period" for cities if their land-use decisions are followed by a final written decision within 14 days.
Pamplin Media Group requested the internal documents related to the city's alleged failure to follow the state law, citing public interest in the case. Oregon City released some of the documents, but city officials said other emails were exempt from mandatory disclosure under Oregon public-records law, since the withheld documents related to current litigation, attorney-client privilege and personnel disciplinary actions.
In an email to commissioners, City Manager Tony Konkol named the city employees who failed to get the project approved within the city's required timeline, but Konkol declined to provide commissioners with any details about the disciplinary actions faced by staff. OC HR Director Patrick Foiles conducted the investigation by reviewing emails, as well as interviewing City Planner Kelly Reid and Community Development Director Laura Terway, who had not consulted the city attorney prior to the June 2 City Commission meeting about when the land-use notice of decision should be sent.
"Based on the results of the investigation, staff undoubtedly made a mistake by not knowing the definition of a 'final decision' as defined in the Oregon City Municipal Code and that city staff is responsible for managing the land use case timeline," Konkol wrote to city commissioners.
Oregon legislators created the 120-day deadline for cities to make land-use decisions because state lawmakers wanted to require local governments to make decisions in a timely fashion.
City commissioners were upset that the Planning Department missed the 120-day deadline for the first time in decades, possibly for the first time in the city's history. Konkol was assigned to determine whether city planners deliberately caused the error because they disagreed with the additional development requirements requested by City Commission.
"Based on the evidence, documentation and interviews, there is no indication that the mistake was purposeful or that there was intent to disrupt or not support the decision made by the Commission," Konkol wrote. "Each person interviewed clearly understands their role as staff and that the goal was to ensure that the subjective nature of the approval criteria was presented, communicated and written in a legally defendable manner concerning the issues raised, findings of fact and supporting information."
Christopher Staggs, the cottage-cluster developer who was appointed in 2020 to the city's Planning Commission, filed the lawsuit in June. Judge Watkins has scheduled the next hearing in the case for Oct. 21.
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