Opinion: Appeal is certain for Oregon City planning travesty
Astonishing! Incredulous! Flabbergasted! All words to describe the Sept. 12 Oregon City Planning Commission meeting. On tap was the final voting of the Park Place Crossing Plan. What transpired was probably one of the biggest fiascos I have ever witnessed in my 19 years of attending city meetings.
During the roll call, all were there except Chris Staggs, the planning commissioner who recently sued the city over his cottage development in Canemah. Does he still hold a grudge with the city over losing the lawsuit earlier this year?
The meeting evolved with a conversation about the initial Park Place concept plan, adopted by ordinance in 2008. With that, Planning Chair Dirk Schlagenhaufer explained how he interpreted the ordinance. Schlagenhaufer stated that it was his impression that the original commissioners who enacted the ordinance back in 2008 knew it needed further refinement and editing before it could be implemented, even after adoption.
Schlagenhaufer was of the opinion that the ordinance needed to be changed before it could be implemented. It was never further refined, and Schlagenhaufer felt it was not legal to be implemented.
What ensued was our city attorney stumbling around for answers on several issues regarding the ordinance. Planning Commissioner Bob La Salle had questioned whether there would be any deliberation on the development. He was told that deliberations had taken place at the last meeting. However, those of us who were present at that meeting realize that deliberations were cut short because it was nearly the 11 o'clock hour, and the commission wanted to place a tentative vote.
What really placed the thick icing on the cake of shadiness was when Park Place Crossing came to a vote. Greg Stoll put up a motion to approve the development. Daphne Wuest who was on the original City Commission with Alice Norris, who pushed for annexation, seconded the motion. This is the same Wuest whose commission political campaign accepted a donation from Icon. It then went for a vote. Stoll - yes; Wuest - yes; Patti Gage, realtor - yes; La Salle - no, Mike Mitchell - no; and then Schlagenhaufer - no.
It was a 3-3 tie. Schlagenhaufer, looking totally perplexed, then asked what next. The city attorney stammered around for an answer and then said they could wait until the next meeting. He then came up with an idea that someone could call in with a vote. Was this some sort of stumbling encouragement?
Next thing we witnessed was a stranger that none of us had ever really met, Derek Metson, quickly exiting the room to apparently place a phone call.
In the meantime, Stoll tried to initiate a motion to remove La Salle from his position as a commissioner, presumably for dereliction of duty. La Salle had gotten up after the tie vote and was heading to the bathroom. He was not well. Stoll tried to intimate that La Salle revealed his bias by walking out after the vote, and was not following his duty as a commissioner.
Several previous commissioners have exited without "public" notification that they were going to the bathroom or were sick. In this instance, La Salle was obviously ill to those of us who could see him. Does a commissioner have to bluntly say, "I am about to throw up on the dais," and explain himself? I don't think it is anyone's call.
This was followed by the yet-unannounced Metson returning to Community Services Director Aquilla Hurd-Ravich with his phone outstretched saying it was Chris Staggs. Staggs was then overheard to ask, "What are we voting on?" Staggs had not been present for any of the dialogue that had preceded the vote.
Staggs had not been required to declare anything beforehand so that the public could question him about his bias. Staggs' bias had been evident all along. He had missed several meetings during the hearing process and it had become obvious to some of his fellow commissioners that he had not watched any of the hearings. He had even remarked early on that he thought is was a good development. Staggs, a developer himself, apparently never had any intention of ever voting against this development.
The development then passed with a simple majority of 4-3 in some of the strangest circumstances that I and others have ever witnessed. Was it legal? Outside attorneys are being consulted as to the legality of the advice by the city manager-hired attorney.
La Salle exited the meeting after that vote was taken, informing Schlagenhaurer that he was still quite ill. At the close of the meeting, Stoll continued by insinuating that he wasn't quite sure if La Salle had all his mental capacities, and had clearly revealed his bias. If asking multiple questions is a sign of bias, then all commissioners may have mental capacity issues. Stoll asked for a special hearing to determine La Salle's ability to continue on the Planning Commission. This was a first in the history of the Planning Commission and left Stoll's other commissioners speechless. A hearing has been set for 7 p.m. on Sept. 26.
Observers didn't even wait until the next day to begin commenting on the travesty that had taken place. The internet, Facebook and others were demanding an explanation of how a commissioner was not contacted by staff, but by an audience observer to place a vote, when he had not even been asked the same declaration questions as the other commissioners. Even the city attorney's action became suspect.
This will surely end up on the laps of city commissioners when appealed.
Oregon City resident Tom Geil is a former Planning Commission member and candidate for city commission. This article was updated from an earlier version online to remove a factual inaccuracy about the type of home in which one of the planning commissioners lives.
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