We are torn over our choice for Ashland's next mayor. Two men, one former and one current mayor, present voters with what we think is a can't-lose proposition.
Both are committed to the prosperity and welfare of the city of Ashland and its residents. They have different styles, to be sure, but both have proven to be effective leaders who can get results.
In the end, our nod goes to incumbent Mayor John Stromberg, who has presided over a City Council that has resolved or at least made headway on a number of significant issues in a community well known for its citizens' willingness to debate, discuss, remonstrate and demonstrate over everything from watershed protection to drive-up windows at businesses.
There are three candidates in this race: Stromberg, former Mayor Alan DeBoer and a wild card candidate whose given name is Keith Michael Erickson, but who goes by the name of Biome, which is also the name that will appear on the ballot.
Biome is passionate about the plight of Ashland's poor and homeless and advocates that the city set up campsites for the homeless. He is, however, unfortunately prone to conspiracy theories about how the powerful are manipulating the system in ways big and small. He has no previous government experience.
That's certainly not the case for DeBoer, who has shown his commitment to his hometown by serving on the Ashland School Board and as both a council member and mayor of the city. He is a take-charge guy with an eye for detail. He says he has concerns about issues in the city ranging from a dirty downtown to a "road diet" plan that will reduce North Main Street from four travel lanes to two.
You get the feeling that, with DeBoer, meetings would be crisper, decisions reached more quickly and the basics — from removing gum on the sidewalks to completing a Plaza redesign — would be dealt with in an expedited manner.
That's a positive and, yet, a negative in a town that loves its debates and wants to ensure that all voices are heard, even if they've been heard over and over. Stromberg, who has a doctorate in business administration, brings a more academic approach, almost that of a facilitator, to the job.
While decision making in the round and round can be aggravating, it has produced results, perhaps because community members feel they have been heard on most issues (the road diet being perhaps the major exception).
During Stromberg's tenure, the council has worked together to reach consensus on an impressive list of very contentious issues, including the Mount Ashland ski area expansion, watershed restoration, the gun club, the city's garbage service franchise and, currently under discussion, the sale of Ashland Community Hospital operations. Many of those issues, especially the hospital, are still in the works, but the council members have worked with each other instead of against each other to find solutions.
Earlier this week, the council took a major step in agreeing to seek proposals from outside organizations to run a homeless day center, a long-overdue step in a community that has a significant issue with homelessness.
The credit for the advances should certainly be shared with the council, whose change in makeup in recent years has provided a much more level-headed approach to issues. But Stromberg also deserves credit.
At one point during our discussion with the candidates, Stromberg exclaimed that he wished the city had the money to hire DeBoer as a public works specialist to deal with some of the specific issues DeBoer raised. He said it half-jokingly, but we would encourage him to pursue that idea by creating a position — volunteer, not paid — that takes advantage of DeBoer's obvious skills. If DeBoer is elected, he should find a way to keep Stromberg engaged as well.
This is a very tough choice, but that's a good problem for Ashland voters to have. The perfect candidate would have the strong points of both men, but since a choice is required, our choice is the man who has been at the helm during a productive four years: John Stromberg.