Ashland voters will decide whether restaurants in the city should have to post grades revealing their Jackson County health inspection ratings.




On Tuesday night, an Ashland City Council majority decided against adopting a new law to that effect and instead set aside the issue to be decided by voters this November.




Ashland resident John Jory collected enough signatures to qualify a citizen initiative about the grades for the ballot. Oregon law requires that an initiated measure first be submitted to city elected officials for them to either adopt outright or send to voters.




"I'm interested in seeing what the voters have to say," said Councilor David Chapman, adding that he is optimistic that residents will support the grading system by a wide margin.




Councilor Alice Hardesty said she liked the idea as well but wanted voters to decide.




"I really think it ought to go to the voters. Personally, I support it," she said.




Chapman, Hardesty and Councilors Russ Silbiger and Kate Jackson voted to put the initiative on the ballot.




Councilors Eric Navickas and Cate Hartzell voted against putting it on the ballot, choosing instead to support an immediate adoption of the ordinance.




Mayor John Morrison, who votes only to break a tie, spoke out against the grading system, which would translate the county's numerical score into A, B or C grades for restaurants that pass inspections. The city would give out printed letter grades to restaurants each time they are inspected.




"It's good to let the voters decide. This is something that will cost the city money," Morrison said.




He said the city doesn't have extra money lying around and will have to police the grading system.




"There will be a tendency for a business that had an A and that gets a B to want to leave the A up," he said.




Administering the program will cost an estimated $40,000 to $60,000 per year, according to an explanatory statement that will go in the voter's pamphlet.




However, Jory said that number is far too high. He estimated the program will cost about $1,000 each year to administer.




Jory said it's fine with him that the city council majority voted to place the grading system initiative before voters.




"Number one, if it passes, it shows it's as popular as I believe it will be. Number two, it lets the City Council off the hook for something some business owners might not like. Number three, if it's passed by voters, it's much harder for councilors to rescind the law," he said.




Jory said not all restaurant owners oppose the grading system. He said at least six restaurant owners and former owners signed his initiative petition.




If a restaurant gets a bad grade, the owner can request another inspection from Jackson County and usually get reinspected in about two weeks at a cost of $250 to $350, he said.




Drew Baily, an Ashland resident and regional representative for the Oregon Restaurant Association, said the association is opposed to the grading system. He said he personally opposes it as well.




"At a cost of almost $60,000, as an Ashland taxpayer I know where I want my money to go," he said, adding that funding for police and firefighters is a higher priority.




During this spring's budget process, the city made cuts that included eliminating the fire inspector's job.




Baily said restaurants lose points for violations that have nothing to do with the health and safety of diners, such as open dumpster lids outside.




Additionally, he said restaurants that make their food from scratch are at greater risk of losing points.




Jory said grading systems are proven to be effective in reducing illness.




According to a 2005 Journal of Environmental Health article he gave to the Tidings, the number of hospitalizations from food-borne illness fell by 13 percent in Los Angeles County after that county began publicly posting restaurant letter grades.




Jory began his quest to have a restaurant grading system in 2007 after he became sick following a meal at a downtown restaurant that has since closed. The restaurant had a score of 75, according to a March 2007 list of Ashland restaurant scores, which would equate to a C grade.




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