Citizens who have written an appeal to a Salem city council vote, among others, say a comment made by City Attorney Dan Atchison about their work was unprofessional. Atchison says that his remark was light hearted and not intended to offend anyone.

On December 6, 2016, Salem city council voted to enact an ordinance (#14-16) that would expand the city’s urban growth boundary (UGB) by about 35 acres. The vote was made in support of an effort to add another bridge across the Willamette River between Salem and West Salem.

In addition to an appeal of the vote by a state agency, the Department of Land Conservation and Development (DLCD), a group of citizens represented by Attorney John Gear also appealed.

Among other effects, the expansion of the UGB for a new bridge would make amendments to Salem’s Comprehensive Plan and Transportation System Plan and take an exception to Statewide Planning Goal 15, which protects the Willamette River Greenway from development.

The Gear citizen’s group identified six errors in the council’s ordinance to expand the UGB, including that it impacts the wrong kind of land to qualify for a state exception, that it doesn’t comply with state requirements to reduce Oregon’s reliance on the automobile, that it doesn’t consider alternatives to a new bridge that wouldn’t require expansion and that it doesn’t follow a state highway plan.

Although the City has eight attorneys on staff, it hired Portland attorneys William Kabeiseman and Carrie Richter, of Portland’s Bateman Seidel Miner Blomgren Chellis & Gram, P.C. to provide support for the city’s work addressing the Gear citizen’s appeal and another citizen’s appeal.

Atchison explains that the city “will use outside counsel when the subject matter is specialized, particularly complex, or when the overall workload of staff requires outside assistance.”  The criteria applicable to UGB expansions, he notes, “are numerous and complex…  and therefore we made the decision to retain outside counsel that has particular expertise in this area.”

At an April 24 city council meeting, at which the DLCD appeal was discussed, Atchison referred to the Gear citizen’s appeal and made an aside, perceived by some as condescending and derisive, “good luck with that.”

Robert Cortright is the spokesman for the citizen’s group and an economist and a retired transportation and land use analyst. Cortright reflects that at the time Atchison made the remark he had not yet seen the group’s brief, which was due on May 5, “so I’m not sure what he was referring to.  His comment was disappointing and unprofessional.”

The city says Atchison, “considers any appeal of a Council decision worthy of careful and considerate attention…  In regard to my comment “good luck with that,” it was light-hearted attempt to acknowledge the difficult work that goes into drafting an appellate brief, and it was not my intent to offend anyone.”

Outside counsel continues to be engaged by the city at rates in excess of $300/hour to address the citizen’s appeal.