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Councilors chosen to lead city that was reincorporated in appeals court case

PMG PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER KEIZUR - Damascus City Council met for the first time in three years after a court case overturned disincorporation. In its first meeting in three years, Damascus City Council selected the man who spearheaded the disincorporated city's court-led resurrection effort to serve as mayor.

James De Young was chosen as Damascus' mayor during a Thursday evening, May 16, special meeting dedicated to reforming Damascus leadership.

"I express my appreciation for the nomination to be mayor of this city," De Young said. "I will be on a fast learning curve and will no doubt make mistakes."

Damascus has six councilors and a mayor. According to the Oregon Court of Appeals ruling on May 1, those in place before the city was disincorporated in 2016 would reclaim their positions. Former Mayor Diana Helm's residence had annexed into Happy Valley, voiding her seat, while another councilor had also resigned his post.

At the Thursday meeting, three of the remaining five councilors showed up: De Young, Council President Bill Wehr and Councilor David Hadley. The two who chose not to attend the meeting were Nancy Carpenter and Richard Klecker.

"(De Young) led a Herculean effort for a monumental court win for this city," Wehr said.

The three in attendance made the decisions in lockstep, voting with a majority and a quorum, according to Damascus City Charter. They added Richard Johnson and Andrew Morrison to the council, filling the vacancies left by resignation and De Young's appointment.

"These two men are highly qualified," De Young said. "We need to rise to the occasion — our adversaries think we can't do it."

The appointed councilors will remain in office until the next election, which could happen through an emergency vote this fall.

PMG PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER KEIZUR - James De Young was chosen to serve as mayor of Damascus during a meeting Thursday evening, May 16. After being selected as mayor, De Young shared his vision for the city with the 50 community members in attendance. He wants to have Damascus retain its rural character, honoring the pioneer heritage.

"What we experienced these last three years is like a man being falsely sent to prison," De Young said. "All of our money went away, our property went away, and so forth."

Damascus faces a steep slope as a municipality. De Young said the city must pass resolutions to have four or more services to secure revenue funds from the county, and adopt a budget for the upcoming fiscal year. The mayor hopes to have a tax rate "far below any other city around us." He mentioned perhaps a property tax rate of 0.1%, which would mean the owner of $300,000 home would only pay $30 in annual property taxes.

"We want to see a shoestring budget," De Young said.

De Young said Damascus must secure a part-time city manager; discuss how to deal with Happy Valley's annexations since 2016; look into reducing the city footprint; find a new meeting place — the former site is now a liquor store; create branding for the city; regulate the marijuana industry; create a city newsletter and website; and fix traffic flows.

The City Council is still discussing when and where future meetings will be held. While there is still a lot of work to be done, the city leadership is optimistic about the future of Damascus.

"I envision a city people will want to annex into," De Young said.

Overturning disincorporation

The Oregon Court of Appeals made a decision that the disincorporation of the city of Damascus three years ago violated state law during a ruling at the beginning of May.

According to the ruling, the outcome of the May 2106 disincorporation vote was never valid. That vote occurred during a primary election when voter turnout is always somewhat reduced. As a result, the measure passed but with only a simple majority. The courts said that wasn't enough to disband Damascus.

James De Young challenged the 2016 election results in trial court. While that ruling went against him, he continued his fight in the Court of Appeals.

As a city, Damascus went through turmoil during its existence as a municipality after being formed in 2004. The town went through seven city managers in eight years, and first put forward a vote to disincorporate the city and recall the mayor in 2013.

The second attempt to disincorporate was an overwhelming success, with 65.75% of votes cast in support of dissolving the city. Two months later, the city ceased to exist. However, with the appellate ruling, that decision only put the city on hiatus.

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