Ashland election 2008
Editor's Note: These are the results of a Tidings survey e-mailed to all candidates.
DT: How old are you?
GK: I will turn 50 this month.
DT: How long have you been in Ashland?
GK: I have been coming to Ashland regularly since the early 1970s. My wife and moved here in 1981 and bought the house we still live in for $43,000.
DT: What are your top three priorities?
GK: 1. Increasing the efficiency of our government so that we can succeed and move on to the next challenge;
2. Enhancing our tourism/cultural economic base by supporting the development of clean industry to attract and create new family wage jobs;
3. Building a shared community vision and laying the groundwork so that we have the systems and people in place to make it happen.
DT: What is the biggest issue facing Ashland in the next two years, and how do you intend to address it?
GK: We are at a crossroads: Secondary issues distract us and keep us from solving real problems that we have already struggled with for too long. We must return to the collaborative, creative, and even visionary approach that made Ashland what it is today. We have to set priorities and stick with them, crafting creative, balanced solutions, and then we should give those solutions the time and support to actually succeed We should decide where we want Ashland to be in 20 years and then work collaboratively to get there. If we do that, and can trust each other and our government, it will help us solve our budget concerns, our housing and land-use issues, protect our environment and keep Ashland the incredible place we love.
DT: What kind of experience do you have, and how will it affect your approach to city government?
GK: I work for a living. We moved to Ashland in 1981, and I work as an historic preservation consultant here, and all over Oregon. I am proud of working on projects in Ashland that include the Ashland Springs Hotel, Standing Stone Brewing Company, the Lithia Fountain, Peerless Rooms, and the library. I also wrote all four of Ashland's National Register Districts. I appreciate that Ashland has a great history, and I believe that it has a great future too, if we work collaboratively and efficiently toward it.
Historic preservation is full of surprises. Historic buildings require you to be flexible, creative and to take advantage of who, and what, you have to work with. Ashland politics are no different. I think Ashland can benefit from that sort of pragmatic, creative and collaborative approach. My preservation expertise takes me outside of Ashland and sometimes outside of Oregon. I've seen what works in other communities and what doesn't, just as I know what worked historically in Ashland. As mayor, this pragmatic approach will help move us forward.
DT: Would you try to be a strong leader, or do you see your role more as the facilitator of City Council meetings?
GK: I think a strong leader is a good facilitator. Council discussion and the input from varied viewpoints on an issue are critical to the democratic process. Hearing different views is exactly what the council and mayor need to do. But it's the mayor's job to run the City Council meetings so that the government's business is accomplished efficiently. I understand Robert's Rules of Order and will rely on them to streamline our meeting process. Council should be a policy making body and then trust our administrator, our qualified staff and the many volunteers who devote countless hours of time to Ashland every month to implement those policies. If we had a clear chain of command, and if we stuck with it, many of the issues that now rise to the council level could be easily, and effectively, handled by our staff, or by city commissions.
DT: What do you think the city government's role should be in relation to the business community?
GK: We need to make sure that nothing we do detracts from the things that have already proven so successful. We have excellent, engaged local business owners, and we should be doing whatever we can to help them to thrive and prosper. At the same time, we also should be doing more to explore the possibility of attracting new investments, particularly in high-paying, clean industry sectors like high-tech, software and professional services. Government can create a supportive environment for business by assuring quality workers, an attractive community and a well-run system that is "knowable" and predictable, including an efficient land-use process that encourages investment that meets agreed upon community goals.
Ashland is a beautiful place that already attracts visitors and retirees from all over the world. I think we can also create an environment that will attract small businesses willing to invest and create family wage jobs if we decide as a community that is a goal worth pursuing.
DT: Is the current pace of growth in Ashland desirable?
GK: Ashland continues to grow at a very slow and stable rate in terms of population. Not growing, as some seem to favor, is naÃ¯ve and, frankly, illegal under Oregon Land Use Law. The issue instead should be "how" we grow and what sort of community can be supported by the development choices we make. We can grow "out," and sprawl beyond the Urban Growth Boundary, or we can grow "up" through infill, increasing density in selected areas and maximizing the use of our existing city footprint. I think we should continue to support infill, creating walkable, mixed-use neighborhoods with corner stores and coffee shops that people can access without a car, that promote efficient mass-transit, and that build strong community through familiarity and neighbor-to-neighbor contacts.
Recently we've become so timid and scared about change that we've missed opportunities, like Amy's Kitchen, that could have created higher paying jobs than the retail or service industry. I think that is a mistake. Support it or not, we have the AFN backbone in place, we have to pay for it, and the best way to do that is to encourage new large scale users to take advantage of that infrastructure. We should be out promoting our business sector, just like we've promoted the arts, tourism and retirement in Ashland.
Of course we have to be smart about growth and how we change, so that we don't lose connection to the Ashland we love. I know that we can do that, we can direct development to create new housing opportunities for a broad variety of people and income groups, and we can do it without losing our small town charm. As a preservation consultant, that's what I have done for 25 years.
DT: Should the city government continue to devote resources to affordable housing?
GK: Yes, but we need to rethink our current policy that we can solve this issue simply by building a few units a year. We've talked about affordable housing in Ashland for too long, as property values have tripled and quadrupled in the process. We need to re-imagine what exactly we mean by "affordable housing" and decide if it should only mean owner-occupied housing or if we can do more to create multiple price point/multiple housing formats as rental units that can accommodate single retirees, young families and others. Not everyone wants or needs a typical single family residence with a 20-foot deep front yard, backyards and the rest. And we need to focus not just on "affordable housing," but also on creating new jobs that will make more housing options affordable.
If we want to solve affordable or family friendly housing, we should:
Decide if we are really serious about this issue or if we are just serious about talking about it.
Ask the voters what, if any, funding they are willing to commit to paying for affordable housing.
Rethink our zoning and the 1950s mindset that everyone must live in a single family detached dwelling or rethink our 21st century goals of a compact, sustainable, transportation-friendly community.
Create a comprehensive approach that involves zoning, building mixed housing types, mixed-use, walkable neighborhoods instead of subdivisions, lot size, lot coverage and land costs.
Building a business climate where there are more opportunities to work in Ashland at higher salaries, so that more people can qualify for mortgages and buy in Ashland when they are ready to do so.
I also think we should appreciate that "affordable" involves more than just housing. It's about all your monthly costs, what you need to get your family through to the next paycheck. That includes the cost of utilities, health care and transportation to and from your place of work. Affordable is about whether you can walk to do your shopping or walk or bike safely to your job. It's about whether your kids can walk to school and whether they have high-quality after-school services when they get there. Yes, housing is a critical element of affordability, but it's not the only part.
DT: How would you address the city government's growing financial problems?
GK: Like each of us, Ashland government needs to tighten its belt whenever and wherever it can, but the fact of the matter is that we are in for some difficult budgetary times as costs of labor, health care and energy continue to rise beyond our control. We must recognize that those costs and many others are likely to continue to grow faster than the 3 percent per year increases in property tax assessments we are allowed under state law, a source of almost 20 percent of the city's revenues.
However there is some waste to cut. Ashland has wasted hundreds of thousands of dollars on hiring and then driving away department heads through meddlesome behavior. This costs us not just in lost productivity toward solving our real issues, but wasted search costs, interviewing costs and moving expenses. We waste staff time and money every time the city council can't get through a public meeting and reach a decision. We waste thousands of dollars on legal costs brought by so-called "activists" who didn't get their way on an issue.
Ultimately, Ashland's real problem is that Oregon's tax system no longer works to fairly distribute the costs of the government. It's not sufficiently flexible or broad-based to withstand normal economic cycles and it's not providing enough control to local governments to maintain the services their citizens want. Of course, Ashland can't fix Oregon's tax system. We need to be creative and hang on, working closely with our legislators to encourage them to help us fix this problem for all Oregonians. In the short term, we have to recognize that there is no magic bullet here. Government costs money, and Ashland citizens demand government services. We need to work together, collaboratively and creatively, to continue to manage Ashland's finances in the fairest and most efficient method we can as these larger, statewide and national funding issues are being addressed.