Judge orders Oregon City to pay $10,000 to urban renewal critic

Judge grants

Former Mayor John Williams will receive $10,000 from Oregon City to cover portions of his legal fees in successfully petitioning a judge to force the city to change its wording on a ballot measure.

On July 14, Clackamas County Circuit Judge Ann M. Lininger ordered Oregon City to make the payment, saying that Williams had sought to vindicate a “significant right,” the right of citizens to vote on ballot measures that are presented in a legally complaint manner. Lininger noted that Oregon City officials declined the chance to clarify language on the May 16 urban renewal ballot question, which led to Williams’ lawsuit and legal expenses.

“An award (of $10,000) in this case would incentivize officials in Oregon City and elsewhere to craft accurate ballot titles,” Lininger wrote.

Oregon City asked citizens to borrow up to $44 million for various urban renewal projects, and over 57% of voters rejected the ballot measure. Prior to the printing of ballots, Lininger ordered the city to correct a statement about how loans would repaid through tax increment revenues collected across all of Oregon City, not just in the downtown area, as city officials stated in their draft ballot measure submitted to the court.

Lininger wrote in a March 14 decision that Oregon City’s “ballot title summary requires adjustment in order to satisfy the requirements” of a state law calling for an “impartial statement.” Finding most of the city’s submitted ballot language was legal, Lininger ruled that only a partial award of Williams’ attorney fees was appropriate.

Williams had initially asked for $22,794 in legal costs to be reimbursed by the city, but he challenged other aspects of the draft ballot language that the judge found legally in compliance.

“There is a lot more in the judge’s words than the dollar amount,” Williams said.

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