The list of applicants for the Citizens Budget Committee is great news for the city of Ashland.




The list includes Dr. Allen Douma, former director of the Oregon Health Plan and former Ashland Planning Commission member; Don Laws, who served on the city council for more than two decades; and Cathy Shaw, who served three terms as Ashland mayor.




This is only half the list. Also in the mix are Dennis Slattery, an SOU business professor whose wife is the executive director of the Chamber of Commerce; Greg Lemhouse, who lost his bid for the city council in a race so close ballots had to be hand-counted; and Suzanne Frey, a name familiar to many on a variety of public activities.




Name any one of the six and the council has made a good choice. If these same six people were chosen to form a committee on just about any topic or city concern, successful completion would be a lock. They also represent a broad swath of Ashland's demographics.




This list suggests a renewed interest in the city from different backgrounds and political stripes. More importantly, the list touts people with tremendous professional accomplishments, education and credentials.




After an election for city council that had one seat completely unopposed and a second only challenged by a homeless man, the list suggests 2008 could offer a slate of better qualified candidates. That would be good for voters and exceptionally good for the city. Any of these six candidates could make a credible run for city council.




For now however, a budget committee member must be appointed. It may not always be popular to talk about the actual qualifications and experience a person brings to a volunteer task, but for a group dealing with a nearly $100 million budget, experience should be an absolute requirement.




If only one of these six can be added to the budget committee (three slots are to be filled, but two current members of the committee have asked to be reinstated) the obvious choice is Shaw. Nobody better understands the city budget, nor can offer the range of political experience than the former mayor. Since leaving the city she's been active in state politics, serving as chief aide to State Sen. Alan Bates, D-Ashland, giving her experience at a higher level than city politics. She is a pro's pro when it comes to both budgets and politics. Again, qualifications do matter.




Of course the kinder, gentler refrain often heard is the council's desire to be more inclusive, to bring in "fresh blood," and to get volunteers who offer different perspectives. That is a noble goal, and completely appropriate in many city committees.




But the city's budget is not the best place to serve as training ground for political involvement. The complexity of the budget itself is difficult to understand. The political obstacle course required to bring success is infinitely harder. With a city that has faced numerous financial challenges, crafting the budget requires a skill set and information base steeped in both city finances and city politics.




Certainly Douma, Slattery and Laws have the political and financial experience to contribute meaningfully. But Shaw is in a class by herself. Like any seasoned politician, she won't win too many popularity contests, but she will be a force to be reckoned with when times for serious budget talks begin.