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SB 226 changes must make it to governor's desk by June 15 in order to be enacted, disincorporate city

An amendment to a bill is being discussed by an Oregon Senate committee that has defenders of the city of Damascus calling it a "death sentence" for the newly revived municipality.

Monday afternoon, June 3, a group of senators are discussing additions to Senate Bill 226, which would counter the May 1 Oregon Court of Appeals decision that ruled the disincorporation of Damascus from three years ago violated state law.

The amendment, helmed by Sen. Shemia Fagan, D-District 24, was added onto the existing bill because the deadline for new legislation has passed.

"Every time they've tried to do this the courts have found it to be illegal," said Damascus City Manager Richard Carson.

Last month the Clackamas County Commissioners wrote a letter imploring the state of Oregon to deal with the situation that has been brewing in Damascus. Things will have to move quickly. If the bill makes it out of committee, both the Senate and House must vote on the bill by June 15.

The vote to disincorporate took place in 2016 during a primary election, when voter turnout is always somewhat stunted. As a result, the measure passed, but only with a simple majority. But, according to court documents, that simple majority was never enough to authorize disincorporation.

According to state law, a vote to disincorporate requires a majority of all registered voters within the city limits show up to the polls. The court ruled the measure should have been nullified because voter turnout was less than half of registered voters.

James De Young, who is now serving as mayor of Damascus, led the effort in court to resurrect the city. That process took three years. If the amendment to SB 226 successfully makes it all the way to Governor Kate Brown's desk, Damascus officials expect another long court battle.

Both De Young and Carson drove to Salem to testify against the amendment.

"We have not seen this kind of intentional and systematic destruction of a city in Oregon since the halcyon days of the Rajneesh," wrote Carson in a letter to the Oregon Senate and House of Representatives.

This story will be updated.


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