Damascus city manager resigns amid chaos

Incorporated in 2004, voters may choose to disincorporate Portland suburb in November

DAMASCUS — One of Oregon's newest cities is also one of its most troubled.

Damascus incorporated in 2004 to prepare for growth that has yet to materialize. What has materialized is political infighting ahead of a November vote on whether to disincorporate the Portland suburb of 10,600 residents.

The chaos escalated Friday when Greg Baker, the city's seventh city manager in eight years, resigned with a more than $300,000 negotiated settlement, The Oregonian newspaper reported.

The resignation was announced at an emergency City Council meeting.

Baker's departure may not be the last.

Mayor Steve Spinnett and City Council President Andrew Jackman face recalls because residents blame them for Baker's resignation. One councilor said he's thinking of quitting. Another, Mary Wescott, resigned on the spot Friday.

Tension has been high at City Hall since Monday, when about 20 people attending a City Council meeting held up "I support Greg Baker" posters before councilors went into closed session to discuss a personnel matter. City officials declined to disclose session details, but the public suspected it was about the city manager.

Political conflict has been the norm since Damascus residents voted to incorporate in 2004 as a way to maintain local control amid an expansion of Portland's urban growth boundary.

Regional planners designated the 18,000 acres of farms, forests and crossroads communities as the area's next big suburb. Voters approved a tax increase to fund the planning of their new city. Then the recession hit, the infighting began, and the projections of growth and rising property values missed their target.

Baker and Spinnett have not spoken since last fall. Their rift began when Baker accused Spinnett's s wife of taking iPhone photos of city documents that contained private information. Police found no wrongdoing. After the incident, Spinnett called Baker's action "the sleaziest amateur political maneuver I have ever seen."

More than 20 people attended Friday's emergency meeting, mostly to support Baker. Some warned his ouster would give momentum to the disincorporation movement heading to the November ballot.

Chris Hawes, a leader in the disincorporation movement, said the council helped his cause by letting Baker go.

"He was able to keep his staff focused on the job we gave him to do," Hawes said. "We are going to blow up this city."

The city does not have an interim replacement for Baker.

"We'll never get another city manager. Never. This is a career-killing hellhole," said Wescott, the councilwoman who resigned. "Damascus is a black mark on any resume."


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