After weeks of speculation and Internet discussion, one downtown business owner publicly announced a recall effort of three Ashland city councilors that will begin in earnest this week.




Calling them "out in left field," Richard Hansen, owner of Gold Gems Fine Jewelry on North Main Street, said he and about a dozen other business leaders are launching a recall campaign to unseat Councilors Alice Hardesty, Cate Hartzell and Eric Navickas.




Hansen refused to name the other business owners. Specifics about the group could not be confirmed by press time, but Hansen called himself a spokesman and was quoted in a story on KOBI-TV on Sunday night.




Hansen said the fledgling effort stems from the councilors' stand against an expansion of the Mt. Ashland Ski Area, which he said is costing local taxpayers at least $100,000, their opposition to a downtown police substation and their perceived desire to convert Oak Knoll Golf Course into affordable housing.




"Enough is enough," he said. "It's time to get this community back into a situation where it's being managed properly."




However, before the councilors can be ousted, organizers must first collect 1,461 valid signatures, or 15 percent of the votes cast in the last governor's election, to force the issue on the ballot, said City Recorder Barbara Christensen.




"I am the first person they would have to start with, and I haven't heard from anyone yet," said Christensen, the city's chief elections officer, adding that a recall election would cost the city up to $7,000.




Hansen said he will begin collecting signatures today and will formally launch a campaign within 10 days.




Surprise, no surpise




Alice Hardesty, surprised by efforts to oust her, said she takes umbrage that her commitment to local economic development is in question. Hardesty, on the council since being appointed to fill-out her late husband's unexpired term, said Sunday that she has always given local merchants a fair chance.




"I'm very pro-local business," she said. "I am not too anxious to have Wal-Mart move in, but I am a firm supporter of local businesses."




To bolster her point, Hardesty said whenever possible she supports local firms over corporate entities: eschewing Blockbuster for DJ's Video and frequenting local coffeehouses rather than Starbucks.




Eric Navickas, barely on the council the six months required before a councilor can be recalled, could not be reached for comment. Neither could Cate Hartzell, elected to the council in 2000 and re-elected in 2004.




Councilor Russ Silbiger, not a target of the recall, said he too sees why some of his colleagues have drawn the ire of local businesses but questions whether a recall is the "most appropriate" path for change.




"The council needs to take a more consensus-tone and start working together instead of posturizing all the time," said Silbiger, seen by many observers as the moderate voice on a council often beset by bickering.




"A lot of times we're not that far apart on what we want to accomplish, but then everyone digs in and doesn't want to move an inch," he said.




Undoubtedly, business leaders' resentments have been fueled by the city's planning and appeals process and by how some city councilors have proposed addressing the transient population on the Plaza, Silbiger said.




"When councilors make statements that the problem downtown is 'the rich, well-dressed people in the Cadillac SUVs,' I guess that stirs people up," Silbiger said, referencing a recent comment he said Navickas made publicly.




Antibusiness sentiment




Calling local businesses "the cornerstone of any thriving community," former Ashland Mayor Cathy Shaw said it's no surprise that a recall effort is afoot.




"This is a very antibusiness council," Shaw said. "Ashland is a rudderless ship right now and businesses realize that and they're worried."




Shaw, who was mayor from 1989 through 2000, said while recalls are "generally a bad idea," she understands "the level of frustration that Ashland businesses are experiencing."




Former Councilor Al Willstatter, one of four targeted in Ashland's last City Council recall effort in 1970, said the ordeal was a major setback for the city, making the council "somewhat skittish" to make any decisions while the recall was in process.




"Recalls are very divisive and they take years and years to heal," said Willstatter, one of three councilors who survived the recall. "What bothers me about this is that the people had the chance to straighten this whole mess out at the last election."




Prior to the 2006 election, Randy Dolinger launched a recall effort of Mayor John Morrison. Dolinger, a homeless man who ran for City Council and lost, could not raise the signatures to recall Morrison.




Morrison could not be reached this morning.




covers politics for the Ashland Daily Tidings. He can be reached at csrizo@hotmail.com.