Ashland City Councilor Greg Lemhouse is hoping to win re-election but faces challenger Keith Haxton, a community organizer.

Ashland City Councilor Greg Lemhouse is hoping to win re-election but faces challenger Keith Haxton, a community organizer.

The two are competing for Position No. 3 on the council.

Haxton, 24, said the Ashland City Council has shifted in recent years and become more conservative.

"I saw Greg Lemhouse as the leader of that conservative shift," said Haxton, who is homeless and sits on the board for the nonprofit group Options for Homeless Residents of Ashland. "I decided if I could do something, I would. No one else was running against Greg Lemhouse, so I decided to do it myself."

Lemhouse, 39, said it's narrow-minded thinking to label people as conservative or liberal when it comes to the City Council.

"I'm an independent. I'm a moderate thinker. I focus on problem solving," said Lemhouse, the director of global fleet development for the Ashland-based electric motorcycle manufacturer Brammo Inc.

Haxton said he is opposed to the complete redesign and reconstruction of the downtown Plaza that was recently approved by the council. Smaller improvements were warranted, he said.

He said the planning process was rushed, without enough opportunity for public input.

"I would have given it more time, given that it's a centerpiece of Ashland," Haxton said.

Lemhouse has been a proponent of the Plaza renovation, along with other efforts to spruce up the downtown.

He said revitalizing the downtown will increase tourism and improve Ashland's livability and business climate.

"I want people to enjoy their town and feel good about their town," Lemhouse said.

He said he wants the city to continue with its economic development efforts.

"It's about making sure our community continues on the right track and prospers for future generations so my children can afford to live here," Lemhouse said.

He wants to promote the growth of existing businesses while also working to diversify and expand Ashland's economic base.

Lemhouse said Ashland should work with state representatives to create an e-commerce zone in town, which would use tax incentives to boost the growth of Internet-based businesses.

Lemhouse said while the national recession may officially be over, many people are still struggling.

He is president of the board of directors for the Ashland Emergency Food Bank, a Little League coach, a member of the Lithia Springs Rotary Club and recently joined the board of Mediation Works.

Lemhouse supports a homeless resource center in town where people could get food, mental health services, help finding jobs and housing and other services.

Haxton said Ashland needs to work harder to provide affordable housing.

A recent study found that Ashland has an over-abundance of high-priced homes, especially since its residents on average earn less than the average Oregonian or American.

Haxton said he supports transitional housing scattered in multiple locations throughout Ashland to help homeless people. With housing, there would be less need for a homeless resource center.

"A lot of people do want to get off the streets," said Haxton, adding residents often treat people as if they have chosen to be homeless.

He said he believes Ashland's ban on camping in public places penalizes homeless people who just need a place to sleep.

"You're fining someone for not having a home," he said.

Haxton said most Ashland police officers are nice and respectful toward homeless people, but a few would rather give out citations than refer people in need to social services.

Haxton said there is a difference between Ashland's resident homeless population and transients who come and go.

"Transients shouldn't be our target for providing services. I don't necessarily want to give services to people who are not interested in living here," Haxton said, suggesting that transients should work for services or pay for them.

A jobs program, mental health counseling, transportation to Medford to receive services and substance abuse treatment are all needed to help people, he said.

On other fronts, Haxton said he would like the city of Ashland to stop awarding no-bid contracts.

He said noncompetitive contracts inflate the cost of goods and services that the city government buys. Eliminating them could save money.

The city sometimes awards no-bid contracts when officials believe there is only one viable source or the provider has specific knowledge and skills.

Haxton would like the Oak Knoll Public Golf Course to be completely self-supporting and not receive any subsidies from the Ashland Parks and Recreation Department.

Parks Director Don Robertson said the golf course generally covers 80 to 90 percent of its costs each year with revenues.

Lemhouse said a top priority for him is finishing the Ashland Forest Resiliency Project to thin trees and brush to reduce wildfire hazards in the Ashland Watershed.

"Prevention is a lot cheaper than disaster recovery," Lemhouse said.

Federal funding has paid for most of that ongoing thinning project, which is a partnership of the city of Ashland, U.S. Forest Service, The Nature Conservatory and the Lomakatsi Restoration Group.

Lemhouse said he also wants to continue serving on the City Council because councilors have helped strengthen Ashland's relationship with other Rogue Valley cities in recent years.

"The city of Ashland is now more relevant as a cooperative player in the valley," he said. "As unique as we are, we're not an island."

Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.