A Clackamas County Circuit Court judge has struck a compromise, approving parts of a proposed ballot title for Damascus disincorporation while adding details to the summary portion.

The ruling clears the way for disincorporation proponents to start collecting signatures needed to place the issue on the November ballot.

Presiding Judge Robert D. Herndon on Thursday, March 14, issued a written opinion on a complaint by a Damascus political activist who said the proposed ballot title on whether Damascus should disincorporate as a city doesn’t explain the effects of disincorporation well enough.

Herndon did not change the originally proposed caption, “Vote to Determine Whether to Disincorporate the City of Damascus,” or the suggested question, “Shall the City of Damascus be Disincorporated?”

Dan Phegley, through his attorney Bruce McCain, argued that both elements of the ballot title were too concise and insufficient.

He suggested the caption explain that disincorporation would surrender the city charter, transfer all city property to Clackamas County and eliminate services provided by the city, such as law enforcement.

Phegley also wanted the ballot to specify that a city can only disincorporate if it is not liable for any debt or other obligations. This could be an issue in light of City Manager Greg Baker’s renegotiated contract, which guarantees him one year of salary and health benefits if the city disincorporates, Phegley said.

Herndon approved Phegley’s proposed summary, which included those extra elements, noting that it “better identifies the issue and appropriately summarizes the consequences of either a yes or a no vote.”

The summary also now states that if voters approve disincorporation, city taxes and fees will be eliminated, and Damascus will revert to an unincorporated area governed by Clackamas County.

Damascus residents in 2004 voted to create a city out of the area’s unincorporated 18,000 acres in order to have more control over how it is developed. Metro had expanded the regional growth boundary to include Damascus, earmarking it as a potential suburb ripe for development.

But residents and city leaders have been unable to agree on a comprehensive plan. Metro officials also have said they overestimated the area’s growth projections.

Frustrated by the lack of progress, among other things, two Damascus residents on Dec. 6 filed the paperwork to start the process of disincorporating the city.

Phegley filed his ballot title challenge in Clackamas County Circuit Court on Dec. 31, but it then took city attorneys another month to respond, further delaying a court ruling and the subsequent approval to collect signatures needed to place it on the November ballot.

“We could be collecting signatures within a couple of weeks,” said Chris Hawes, a disincorporation supporter.

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