Ashland City Councilors decided Monday night on a process to replace former Councilor Pam Marsh who was sworn in as an Oregon state representative Monday, Jan. 9. Marsh leaves behind council seat 6, which will be filled by appointment. 

City Charter does not provide for a special election for the filling of a vacant elective office. According to City Recorder Barbara Christensen, “City Charter states that a vacant elective office shall be filled within 60 days, which is March 1, 2017, by the City Council electing some qualified person to fill the vacancy. The appointee’s term of office shall begin immediately upon appointment and shall continue until a successor elected at the next biennial election takes office for the unexpired term.”

That next election will be in November 2018. 

Councilors therefore decided in their study session to advertise for the council position, take in resumes, meet with candidates individually and narrow the field in executive session, after which they would vote via individual ballot. 

“It’s not to withhold anything from the public, but it’s also to not open everyone up to scrutiny,” said Councilor Greg Lemhouse of the process after several councilors, including Dennis Slattery, who was sworn in shortly before the meeting, expressed concern about people seeking the council position. “It’s going to put people in a position to discuss the people in public,” said Slattery. “I’m not sure a discussion is fair.” 

Councilors agreed instead to offer four primary questions for each candidate to respond to and use those answers as part of the narrowing process: 

• What do you think are the biggest issues facing the city?

• What is your primary motivation for seeking the vacant council seat?

• What community and city activities have you been involved in recently?

• What is the role of the city councilor? 

Councilors agreed to appoint the new councilor at their Feb. 21 regular business meeting. 

They also decided on a process to hire the city’s new financial officer which includes an executive search committee seeking qualified applicants, screening them and then presenting finalists to the council. The search committee has narrowed the field to five. Regina Ayers of the National Association of University Women urged the council to give weight to women candidates.

“Because women are 50 percent of the population and are not as represented on the council any longer," Ayers said, noting that with the departure of Marsh and Carol Voisin, only one female councilor, Stefani Seffinger, is left on the council, "and we have no women in senior management, I’m hoping women are included.”

Mayor John Stromberg responded that the city has two women in senior management and that two of the finalists for the open management position were also women. 

The council also took up the issue of alleged “behavior issues” described in a letter to the council by a neighboring property owner, including open consumption of alcohol, smoking, public urination and large numbers of people congregating in parking spaces, in the city-owned parking lot at Lithia Way and Pioneer Street. 

“People have been pushed off Main Street and they have to go somewhere," said Roy Laird, owner of the nearby Book Exchange on Pioneer. "But there’s cursing, intimidation, talking loudly. It’s a clash of values. People when pushed out of one place they go to another. It’s not easy because people have rights. Those people have to have someplace to go.”

Councilors discussed the request to build an 8-foot concrete wall between the city parking lot and the property of Stan Potocki, who owns the building at 150 North Pioneer Way. He is requesting LED lighting, a removal of landscaping and increased police patrols.

Ashland resident Brent Thompson told councilors perhaps the best option is to offer space to people, mostly on the homeless spectrum who occupy the city owned parking lot, outside the Pioneer Market. “We need a place for people to smoke. Maybe we need benches and cans there. Where do we accommodate people?” 

Councilors discussed the possibility of private security as opposed to changing landscaping, lighting or building walls.

“I’m not excited about more landscape architecture," said Councilor Rich Rosenthal. "The city could contract with a security firm and have presence there. I think that would go further.”

However, Ashland Police Chief Tighe O’Meara testified that most of the behaviors his officers have observed is not criminal.

“A substantial part of the behaviors is not illegal,” he said. He suggested that private security would not be able to affect behavior. O’Meara also said it would be a union issue to hire security. “I have significant union concerns. They aren’t going to want to see more private security and there’s nothing for them to do right now. The city would have to make lingering in the parking lot or panhandling illegal.” 

Councilor Lemhouse suggested the issue continue for discussion and urged councilors to consider that there’s no one demographic to address. “It’s not just a traveler issue, but people getting out of bars too.”

Email Ashland freelance writer Julie Akins at julieanneakins@gmail.com and follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/@julieakins.