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.
What is your top priority if elected?
Haxton: The city of Ashland needs to become fiscally stable. Currently the city has more than $50 million worth of unfunded projects and pays more than $2 million in debt service annually. We must start by cutting the wasteful spending currently taking place in the city. The most obvious place to start is by putting an end to the non-competitive, no-bid contracts that are regularly approved by the City Council. This year alone the city has approved more than $1 million worth of no-bid contracts and stopping this will be a top priority.
Lemhouse: Complete the Ashland Forest Resiliency Project. This is a project that is crucial to improving the health of our watershed and has become a model of how local government, its citizens, environmental advocacy groups, the federal government and private business can work together to protect and improve our environment. With the potential consequences of what could result from a wildfire in the watershed, it is obvious that prevention would be much less costly than disaster recovery for our community. In addition, the continued work to be done thinning our watershed would also provide needed jobs for our economy.
What should be done about Ashland's homelessness problem?
Haxton: There are many problems that, when left unattended, result in a homeless problem. In Ashland, there are more than 800 unemployed workers, housing costs well above average, household and family incomes are well below average, there's a lack of public shelter and services, and there's a strong sentiment of hostility toward homeless and low-income residents. All of these issues need to be addressed if we are to do anything meaningful about Ashland's homeless problem. I would start with promoting the idea of compassion.
Lemhouse: There are many in our community who have a great deal of passion toward addressing this issue. The most important part, however, is turning passion for addressing an issue into action. The current council was the first to address homelessness by creating a Homeless Task Force. Councilman Dennis Slattery and I have also put forward a plan to the council that would allow the city to further assist our most vulnerable citizens with competitive grant money that would go to fund a Community Resource Center, run by a nonprofit organization that would assist any Ashlander who is in need of assistance.
What should the council do to help strengthen Ashland's economy?
Haxton: Council could start by passing a balanced budget and paying off our debts. The city could then invest in infrastructure development such as upgrading the AFN network, repairing our wastewater system, fixing streets, sprinklers and fountains. We could improve the downtown to make it more attractive by replacing the mix-matched flowerpots, fixing the uneven sidewalks and restoring benches and trash receptacles. In short, we could make our town more desirable and update our infrastructure to the 21st century.
Lemhouse: The council needs to continue to execute its Economic Development Plan, which expands our economic base by retaining and expanding current local businesses. This can be done by a council that is supportive of our local businesses and acknowledges their contributions to our community. The council must aggressively lobby the Legislature through our local representatives to establish an e-commerce overlay zone, which would provide tax incentives for Internet-based businesses that expand their workforce in Ashland. This industry is flourishing here and creates clean, good paying jobs for young families and could create another solid economic pillar for our local economy.
"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 firstname.lastname@example.org.