With help from city staff, the City Council and mayor then spent months gathering and summarizing input from community groups, city boards and commissions, individuals and about 100 people who answered an online questionnaire.
The city of Ashland has taken a page from the playbook of the nonprofit world and adopted values and vision statements.
In April 2009, the City Council and Mayor John Stromberg made a list of community values and discussed their vision for the ideal Ashland of the future.
With help from city staff, they then spent months gathering and summarizing input from community groups, city boards and commissions, individuals and about 100 people who answered an online questionnaire.
The recently adopted values state Ashland places importance on participatory government, a healthy environment, responsible land use, free expression, diversity, distinctiveness, a sense of community, all people having their basic needs met, lifelong education and an economy with environmentally friendly businesses that provide good wages, local products, support for arts and culture and connections to Southern Oregon University.
The vision lays out what an ideal Ashland would look like in 2030.
Many attributes would remain the same, including that Ashland is a relatively safe place with outdoor recreation, events and festivals, performing and visual arts, preservation of historic buildings, limits on sprawl and a school system that is regarded as among the best in the nation.
Other attributes are a work in progress, such as forests above town offering wildlife habitat, recreation, clean drinking water and safety from wildfires. In the past several years, the city of Ashland and the U.S. Forest Service have carried out three projects — one of which is in progress now — to thin wildfire fuels and improve forest health in the Ashland watershed.
Some attributes of an ideal Ashland would be challenging and costly to achieve, including that the town would meet its energy needs through conservation and alternative energy generation, residents would reuse treated sewage effluent and stormwater runoff for irrigation and strong bus and rail systems would connect Ashland to the Rogue Valley and the rest of the West Coast.
City Councilman Eric Navickas said the values statement and the vision statement will be important guides.
"This is a really powerful statement about what our values are, and it's representative of the community and what our vision for the future is," he said.
City Administrator Martha Bennett said the values and vision statements will be put to use. City staff members will consider the values and vision of elected representatives and the community when evaluating alternatives and presenting options and staff recommendations to the council.
Many times, decisions will require weighing the importance of one value against another. Then council members will have to decide which values are most important to them, she said.
At the suggestion of Councilman Greg Lemhouse, the council agreed to add that Ashland values families, whether they are traditional or nontraditional.
"Whoever they consider their family is, their family is really their support base, and I think it's important as a community that we recognize that," said Lemhouse, who is married with children.
Councilman David Chapman voted against adoption of the values and vision statements, while members Navickas, Lemhouse, Carol Voisin and Kate Jackson voted to take the action. The mayor votes only to break ties.
"We and the community have spent a lot of time and money putting together a lot of new-age nebulous nonsense," Chapman said.
The City Council spent $3,075 for an Albany facilitator to help with a 2009 session during which the council and the mayor developed ideas for goals and the values and vision statements. The goals were more concrete than the values and vision concepts, and included actions such as finishing an affordable housing project on Clay Street.
After the session with the paid facilitator, city staff, the council and the mayor collected public input and formulated the goals and vision and values statements.
Chapman said he fears the statements will guide future councils to make decisions that might not be best for the city.
"We're going to use this fuzzy stuff to justify budget decisions and council actions," Chapman said. "That's what frightens me."
To see the values and vision statements and read a summary of public comments, visit http://ashland.or.us/Files/062910_Adoption_of_Values_Vision_CC.pdf.
Staff writer Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-479-8199 or firstname.lastname@example.org.