Jackie Agee said she wants to bring more consensus to the Ashland City Council, while incumbent Carol Voisin is working to retain her seat and said she often represents an important dissenting voice.
The two are vying for council Position 1 on the Nov. 6 ballot.
"I have an ability to build consensus and work as part of a team," Agee said. "I really want to represent all of Ashland — and I don't think Carol does."
What is your top priority if elected?
Agee: My first priority will be to become familiar with the city budget to ensure my responsible stewardship of Ashland's financial resources. Along with that, I believe it's vital we solve the problems we have downtown with people who behave criminally and abusively toward visitors and residents alike. I will work with the business community, tourism groups, law enforcement, the city and human service agencies to come up with a solution. This behavior is hurting Ashland and must be stopped.
Voisin: I want to continue to fund our water, wastewater and transportation master plans. With these plans our city is "shovel ready" for state and federal grants that can then reduce our fees for use of these utilities. The City Council also needs to look at progressive fees for our utilities. This means that the less you use, the less you pay; the more you use, the more you pay. Rewarding conservation through monetary incentives can do much to make Ashland affordable again while extending our supply of water and keeping our wholesale electric power rate low.
What should be done about Ashland's
Agee: As a community we first need to realize that homelessness is a complex issue with many facets. We have those who are homeless by choice; those who don't want to be homeless; and those who are at risk of becoming homeless. Our first priority should be to help those who don't want to be homeless and those who are at risk of becoming homeless. Developing a resource center that would provide homeless people who want to change their circumstances the opportunity to receive case management and other services is a good first step.
Voisin: Ashland needs a day center for homeless adults to resolve problems before they happen. The city can provide seed money. We also have another problem: our teens, at risk when they are out on the street. Youth are by far the largest number of people who occupy the Plaza, and appear to be responsible for many of the aggravations that worry our business owners and tourists. Community Works should return to The Grove, a purpose-built youth facility. Youth say they would love to go there for a place to hang out. We have other classroom space for displaced community classes.
What should the council do to help
strengthen Ashland's economy?
Agee: The council can help strengthen Ashland's economy by sustaining and enhancing livability — one factor that makes Ashland attractive to business. Improving public safety, transportation, water and other city services is one way our livability is protected and enhanced. Not only will this help the city attract new businesses that offer livable-wage jobs but also provide our existing businesses the needed support to ensure they continue to prosper. Continuing to streamline the planning process while ensuring that the businesses we bring to Ashland are compatible with the life we all cherish is another way to strengthen Ashland's economy.
Voisin: The business of the City Council is to provide a framework in which our entire community thrives. This means maintaining our well-designed and sustainable infrastructure, which attracts small business and light industry. Related to this is increasing the city's inventory of workforce housing. This means inviting developers and nonprofits to partner with the city to make it happen. Infrastructure that is affordable for residents and businesses combined with housing for a workforce and their families can do much to strengthen our economy.
Voisin said although she is sometimes on the losing side of 5-1 or 4-2 votes on the six-member council, she believes she is representing Ashland well.
She has sometimes been criticized for having trouble getting along with some council members.
"The conservatives who are saying that about me have little tolerance for diversity. The majority is often being represented by my one vote," Voisin said.
Agee, 63, is the development director for the Medford citadel of the Salvation Army, a faith-based social service organization.
She said she has more than 25 years of experience in management and leadership roles, including as classified manager at the Mail Tribune, publisher at the Ashland Daily Tidings and development director for the Southern Oregon Humane Society.
Voisin, 65, is a senior instructor teaching critical thinking, ethics and writing at Southern Oregon University. Her past jobs include working as an assistant to the chief executive officer of the Mountain Meadows Retirement Community and working on academic programs at Duke Divinity School and the Pacific School of Religion.
Voisin said she stands behind city spending on infrastructure master plans that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.
In addition to helping Ashland prepare for future infrastructure needs, Voisin said the master plans put the town in a position to win state and federal infrastructure grants. Those could help offset fee increases on residents.
Voisin said the city of Ashland should adopt water and electricity fee structures that reward conservation.
"The less you use, the less you pay," she said of her proposal.
Voisin said Ashland needs to address climate change both by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and preparing for potential climate change impacts, such as increased flooding from winter rain and early snowmelt.
She supports more local food production to prepare for possible shortages.
Voisin said she favors city efforts to help found a day-use center to serve homeless people. But she would also like a second center to serve homeless and at-risk youth at The Grove on East Main Street.
"You do not want to mix teens with adults. A day-use center for adults could be somewhere else," Voisin said.
The Ashland Parks and Recreation Department and community members have raised concerns about the loss of event and recreation class space if The Grove is no longer available for those uses.
Agee does not favor using The Grove as a center for homeless and at-risk teens. An alternative school for juvenile offenders was also proposed there to run in conjunction with the center.
The social services organization Community Works, which put forward the teen center and alternative school concept, has withdrawn the idea for now.
Agee said about 3,000 community members who take classes at The Grove would be displaced to accommodate a smaller number of youth.
Agee said Ashland could help people who are experiencing unwanted homelessness, along with those at risk of becoming homeless, by providing case management services at a day center.
"The focus needs to be on people who don't want to be homeless," she said.
The city government is exploring the idea of paying to lease a space, with the Salvation Army named as one of the possible organizations that could operate the site.
Voisin has voiced doubts about the Salvation Army's ability to run an operation at an Ashland day center.
Agee said some people are hanging out downtown and on the Plaza, being abusive and obnoxious to residents, tourists and business people.
"A lot of people don't feel comfortable going downtown because they feel they will be harassed. It's really starting to hurt our businesses," she said, noting that she would like to bring all parties together to find common ground to address the issue.
Voisin said she favors a city project to reduce car lanes on North Main Street as it comes into town to make more room for bicyclists and pedestrians. The road is being re-striped this week for the one-year trial of the "road diet."
"If it doesn't work, I'll be the first to ask Public Works to remove it," she said.
Agee said she is concerned that the "road diet" on North Main Street could significantly slow traffic while not providing increased safety for bicyclists.
"I'll be watching that closely to see if the hoped-for results are there," she said.
Voisin said she has serious concerns about a proposed merger between Ashland Community Hospital and Dignity Health, a San Francisco-based health organization formerly affiliated with the Catholic Church.
She is also troubled that the city leases its land to the Ashland Gun Club east of town for $1 per year, but has had to pay thousands of dollars on a land purchase and environmental studies because of contamination from lead ammunition.
Voisin said Ashland needs to create more workforce housing.
"We need to get families into Ashland to maintain our schools. We have to find a way to get young families into our community," she said. "I hope the business community will step up and help this happen."
To reduce fire risk in town, Agee said the city of Ashland — which has limits on weed and grass height during fire season — should work with Jackson County officials to place similar limits on county land. Pockets of unregulated county land are sprinkled about Ashland and also border its edges.
Agee said she would listen to residents and work to come up with solutions to challenges.
"What was clear to me from the beginning as a manager was that I didn't have to have all the answers. I needed to involve stakeholders in a department or on an issue," Agee said.
She said she's not afraid to make tough decisions, but she doesn't do so in a vacuum.
Agee said she would work to bring a spirit of civility to often-contentious community issues.
"We all share a love for this city and a desire to keep it livable. We need to be willing to find common ground," she said.
Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-479-8199 or firstname.lastname@example.org.