Ashland Mayor John Stromberg is seeking a second term in office, but he faces challenges from former Mayor Alan DeBoer and political newcomer Keith Michael Erickson, who is listed as "Biome" on the ballot.
"I want to complete major initiatives that we've launched in my first term," said Stromberg, an organization and management consultant.
Projects include thinning in the Ashland watershed to reduce wildfire risk, upgrading the city's water and sewer systems and planting trees along Bear Creek to cool its water and offset the impact of the warm treated effluent that Ashland empties into the creek.
DeBoer: To be an efficient leader for both the staff and citizens. To complete projects in a timely manner that respects citizen involvement and budgets. To provide concise information for an informed decision by the City Council and recruit citizens to provide a balance to all committees. Specific concerns are the Transportation Plan, Water Plan, Plaza redesign, budget and cleanliness of the downtown.
Erickson: My top priority is reclaiming the political process. Crucial issues facing our community's survival are publicly addressed; their remedies prioritized. Held in common is our shared vision of manifesting a better world for all. We share this vision of social, political, economic and environmental justice. We become collective decision makers. By instituting referendum voting, we assert our birthright to authorize simple, cost-effective solutions. Our top priority is to build partnerships with those courageous citizens willing to confront public, private and corporate institutional resource mismanagement and, with majority global consensus, command the manifestation of peace on Earth, goodwill toward all.
Stromberg: My two most urgent priorities are:
Acquire the remaining $4 million necessary to complete the Ashland Forest Resiliency thinning project in the watershed.
Set up an ad hoc committee to develop options for adequately funding Ashland's public schools.
Here are my remaining Tier 1 priorities:
Complete engineering specs for all Water Master Plan components so that construction can go forward quickly.
Start implementing our Economic Development Strategy for 2012-13.
Hire an assistant city administrator.
Begin integrated council goal-setting/biennial budget process.
What do you think is the solution to Ashland's homelessness problem?
DeBoer: The homeless problem is way more difficult. We need to provide help to those who are homeless. There is no way in the space allotted I can write the many approaches for the problem. I can tell you that I've done in Ashland what is being proposed and it did not work. We need to work with the churches, Salvation Army, Gospel Mission and other organizations. I hear a lot of talk, but we need to address the problem of why someone is homeless and help them succeed in life. We cannot ignore the problem; it is just getting worse.
Erickson: Ashland should follow ORS section 203 regarding homelessness. Accordingly, our city may allow religious institutions to provide auto camping with access to sanitary facilities. Religious institutions are under moral obligation, as per their claim of faith, to assist those disadvantaged. Also, our city may approve the establishment of up to two campgrounds inside our urban growth boundary. Regardless of economic condition, violating a person's right to sleep is a constitutional crime and cruel and unusual punishment. Our right to freely sleep is God-given. It is a medical necessity. It's time to update our social contract and face reality.
Stromberg: Homelessness exists within any structured society. It must be addressed because it threatens the stability, productivity and resiliency of the community.
Historically, city government has not played a leading role, but in these times it must become both more directly involved and more active in coordinating other organizations, public and private.
There are four goals:
Keep the near-homeless from falling into homelessness.
Offer pathways out of homelessness.
Provide for basic human needs.
Protect the community's peacefulness, economy and youth from harm.
What should the council do to help strengthen Ashland's economy?
DeBoer: Our economy will strengthen with the basics in place: a clean downtown, easy, convenient transportation, adequate parking, great schools, and all the things we love about Ashland. We have the location and infrastructure that is envied in the country as well as the arts, university and environment. We need to be careful with our budget so that everyone can afford to live in Ashland while maintaining our parks and livability.
Erickson: First, our council needs to address the fundamental flaws in our current macro-economic model. Our council needs to provide leadership for the transition into a stable-state economy rooted in the proper stewardship of our common resources. Our council needs to partner with economic patriots willing to guide our city into ecologically sustainable self-sufficiency. Our council needs to solicit the proposals of social venture economists and innovative financial strategists who are laying the foundations for our economic rehabilitation. Our social ills of poverty, unemployment, ignorance and dis-ease are to be healed. Can we help our council realize this sane vision?
Stromberg: Here's what the council is actually doing:
Implementing Economic Development Strategy 2011-12, diversifying Ashland's economy beyond the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and university by cultivating entrepreneurial, innovative, local, traded-sector businesses. This includes improving ease of planning/permitting process; performing business retention and expansion confidential study of development needs and obstacles for local businesses (contract with Chamber); and joining Jackson County Enterprise Zone.
Diversifying visitor economy by adding food and outdoor recreation components to OSF/cultural core (contract with Chamber).
"Refreshing" downtown by removing lead paint and repainting curbs, painting light standards, steam-cleaning sidewalks, installing new trash receptacles and renovating Plaza.
He said he supports the City Council's multi-pronged approach to ensure a clean and steady water supply by building a second water treatment plant, another storage tank and a line to bring water from Medford to Ashland for use during emergencies.
He said an old plan to complete the Talent-Ashland-Phoenix water line would put Ashlanders at the mercy of the Medford Water Commission, which charges Central Point and Eagle Point residents higher water rates than Medford residents.
Stromberg said he would like Ashland to switch to self-insurance of its employees, rather than paying an outside health insurance company.
He noted several key leadership positions in town will change with upcoming retirements in the next couple of years, including the Oregon Shakespeare Festival's executive director and Ashland schools' superintendent.
"I want to preserve continuity at a time of a lot of change for the community," Stromberg said.
While Ashland's mayor is most often seen in public presiding over City Council meetings, he said there is much work to be done behind the scenes.
In nearly four years in office, Stromberg said he has strengthened ties with the governor, state legislators, the Ashland Chamber of Commerce and many other individuals and organizations.
Given continuing economic uncertainties, he said Ashland needs to keep working on efforts to conserve and produce energy, grow local food, capture rainwater for watering and carry out its economic development plan.
He said too many residents cannot afford food, rent and medical insurance.
Stromberg said Ashland must do what it can to rein in public employee retirement system costs, which are throttling local governments.
Though small, he said Ashland must learn to deal effectively with large corporations, including ones that have begun to plant genetically modified crops in the Rogue Valley and Bay Area-headquartered Recology Ashland Sanitary Service, which wants to dramatically raise garbage rates in town.
DeBoer said he believes Ashland is veering off course on several fronts.
He opposes a "road diet" project on North Main Street as it comes into town that will reduce the number of car lanes to make more room for bicyclists and pedestrians.
"One lane in each direction seems like a really bad decision for the city," he said.
DeBoer said he doesn't believe the road can handle the volume of traffic it gets with fewer car lanes, and getting out of town could become more difficult if a disaster hits.
DeBoer — who was mayor for four years beginning in 2001 and didn't seek a second term — said he would like to see Ashland connect to Medford's water supply and complete the Talent-Ashland-Phoenix water line that stops now in Talent.
Ashland needs to improve its downtown and strengthen its economy, said DeBoer, the co-owner of the Town & Country Chevrolet dealership on Ashland's northern outskirts.
He said the downtown is dirty and a project recently approved by the City Council to redesign and reconstruct the Plaza needs to be finished quickly.
Businesses, the city government and residents need to work together, DeBoer said.
"We need to really help businesses improve the looks of the downtown so we have jobs. We need to get our citizens to shop in Ashland and support our people," he said.
DeBoer said he has experience in helping Ashland's homeless after he helped fund and found a homelessness and social services center on Ashland Street in the mid 2000s.
The city of Ashland is exploring starting up another homelessness day-use center. It could potentially pay to lease a site where at least one nonprofit could provide services.
"I'm willing to partner with anyone who will help with the problem," DeBoer said. "The more the merrier. People need help, but the government is horrible at providing that help. There's too much bureaucracy, studies, overhead and not getting it to the final source."
DeBoer, who has experience on a number of boards for local nonprofit groups and the Ashland School District, said he would like to enlist residents and churches to do even more volunteer work in town.
He said he is good at listening to ideas from others.
"I would like voters to choose me and four years from now, I think they will feel they were well-represented and heard," DeBoer said.
Erickson said he is running for mayor because he wants to take a stand against political apathy and disempowerment.
Erickson said he has harmed his own credibility by accidently writing his nickname, Biome, in the space on elections paperwork where candidates are supposed to list the name they want to appear on the ballot.
But he is forging ahead, visiting more than 3,000 households as he canvasses neighborhoods and distributes campaign literature.
Erickson, a production foreman at Pickled Planet organic sauerkraut and pickle company in Ashland, said he wants to help construct a sustainable local economy based on stewardship of natural resources and cottage industries.
He said city government should invest in essential services, cut unnecessary spending and use the savings to boost local organic food and renewable energy production.
"This is the foundation of real security," Erickson said.
He said tourists could be drawn to Ashland from all over the world.
"They can come to Ashland and spend money and witness the transition into a local sustainable economy based on harmony between us and the natural environment," Erickson said. "They can take that back to their hometowns and apply the things they witnessed in Ashland to their communities."
He said the city government can help homeless and impoverished people by supporting drug and alcohol rehabilitation facilities. People could then get employment in cottage industries in Ashland.
Erickson said Ashland should designate two sites where homeless people could legally sleep without being ticketed for illegal camping.
He said Ashland voters should be allowed to vote directly on major issues because the majority opinion is often disregarded by the current City Council.
"The local political scene can be reclaimed for the benefit of the common good," Erickson said.
Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-479-8199 or firstname.lastname@example.org.