The Ashland City Council endorsed new ethics rules that could limit the influence of architects, arborists, land-use attorneys and even historians on the development process.




On Tuesday night, council members voted to give initial approval for extending ethics rules that apply to paid employees, to themselves and the many volunteers who serve on city commissions, committees and boards.




Under a new provision, a councilor or volunteer cannot represent a client before another commission, committee or board on a matter that has come or will come before the city council or the volunteer's own commission, committee or board.




Planning applications often travel back and forth before the Planning Commission, Tree Commission, Housing Commission and Historic Commission. Decisions of the planning commission can be appealed to the city council.




Councilors and volunteers can still work for a client on a matter that will come before a city panel, but cannot testify for the client at a public meeting.




Councilor Alice Hardesty, a former housing commissioner, said restricting councilors and volunteers from representing clients before other groups is a good idea because it eliminates the appearance of a conflict of interest.




"It's a natural tendency to favor one's colleagues," she said.




Councilor Eric Navickas, a residential designer, said he has heard that it is difficult for architects to serve on Ashland's commissions and committees. But he said adopting the new ethics rules could curb abuses.




"It cleans up the messiness that we see too often in our community where different people have overlapping interests," he said.




Councilors Russ Silbiger and David Chapman said the ethics rules could hurt individual professionals and small firms.




In a large firm, if one employee served on a commission or committee, another employee could be assigned to represent a client before a committee or commission, Silbiger said.




"That's the real flaw in this," he said.




However, present councilors voted unanimously to change the ethics rules. Councilor Kate Jackson left before the vote. Mayor John Morrison, who votes only to break ties, said he supports the ethics rule changes.




Among other changes, the new rules bar all public officials from accepting any valuable gifts from an individual or organization that has any direct or indirect business with the city.




Resident Philip Lang has previously criticized council members who accepted free tickets from the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. The City of Ashland shares a portion of hotel/motel tax receipts with the festival.




In other business Tuesday night, the council voted unanimously to assess charges of $632.72 per unit against property owners in the Nevada Street Local Improvement District.




Resident Art Bullock argued the city should have assessed a higher amount and that Public Works Director Paula Brown had a conflict of interest in the case because she owns property within the district.




Charges would have been $788.13 per unit for the 125 units if the city had classified work there as a street improvement project rather than as a sidewalk project. The city paid an additional




$19,426.25 by taking on a larger share of the $295,837.63 project.




Project Manager Jim Olson said he and Brown talked together and classified the district as a sidewalk project because about 80 percent of the work involved sidewalks. Also, the city previously had classified a similar and adjacent project on Helman Street as a sidewalk project.




"We tried to be equitable to the different districts," Olson said.




Also Tuesday night, the council:




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162; authorized the sale of a half-acre parcel on Strawberry Lane for $462,000, with proceeds to reimburse the federal government for construction costs for The Grove and for affordable housing;




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162; delayed a decision about whether to authorize a new community solar project until more information can be gathered;




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162; and agreed to authorize a contract of up to $75,000 for legal services relating to the Mt. Ashland Ski Snowboard Resort expansion. The council is seeking a detailed business plan, an expansion construction oversight team and assurances the ski area has enough assets to restore the mountain in case of financial failure. Mediation talks between council and ski area representatives broke down last week.




Staff writer can be reached at 479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.