Ashland's annual State of the City celebration Monday evening was filled with a mix of praise for accomplishments and, as Mayor John Stromberg said in his keynote speech, promises for progress.
More than 100 people, including community members, city staff, committee members, commissioners, past and current city councilors, and the mayor gathered at the Ashland Springs Hotel to celebrate the city’s seventh annual event.
Initiated by Rep. Pam Marsh in 2010, the event, previously held at the Community Center, has become an opportunity for the city to reflect back on projects and accomplishments and to outline work to be done the year ahead.
Councilors Greg Lemhouse and Rich Rosenthal took turns highlighting each city department and welcoming the city’s new hires, including Fire Chief Mike D’Orazi and four new police officers.
Stromberg said that, looking back at his years serving as mayor, the current City Council is “an unusually good group.”
“They are very independent minds, and they hardly agree on anything but they work it out,” Stromberg said. “They are a good asset to the city.”
But more works need to be done in the city, he added, including on issues such as homelessness, affordable housing, climate change and transparency within the city.
The event is also an opportunity for the city to highlight its citizens and public servants.
The entire audience got up to their feet — some of them with teary eyes — when Councilor Stefani Seffinger announced the city’s annual James M. Ragland “Volunteer Spirit” award would go to Jason and Vanessa Houk.
The couple has been the leader in the effort to keep the homeless in the city safe and sheltered, organizing free weekly meals and hosting Sunday night's shelter at the city's Pioneer Hall.
“They have spent hours and hours bettering our community,” Seffinger said. “I know there will be souls out there tonight who wouldn’t be alive without Vanessa and Jason.”
The couple, hand in hand, thanked the city for the award and called for more immediate action from the community, as Vanessa recalled stories of those who fell through the cracks that she had helped.
“We want you to hear that doing the right thing isn’t doing extraordinary things,” Vanessa said, thanking their local sponsors, partners and volunteers who contribute to make their efforts possible.
“It’s frightening to know that we are the last string of safety net for many people,” Jason said. “Our job has just started.”
The event also honored former state Rep. Peter Buckley with its newly established award, named after the late state Sen. Alan M. Bates, for his public service to Ashland and Oregon as a whole.
Presenting the award was Laurie Bates, Alan Bate’s widow, who talked about legacy of “the Bates and Buckley team.”
“Peter, you and Al have worked together to improve the life of people in Ashland and people in Southern Oregon,” Laurie said as the two both shed tears on stage. “Because of your mutual respect to each other, and your love for each other, it’s a great honor for me to present you this award.”
“It’s an honor and a privilege to know him … and it’s a privilege to serve this community and this great state,” Buckley said as he accepted the award to the applause from the audience.
Ashland has a full schedule ahead for this year, from expediting development of the transit triangle to producing more affordable rental units to finding a substantive way to fulfill its commitment to produce 10 percent of its energy from clean, local sources by 2020.
“All of that means that we are on the move,” Stromberg said.
— Reach reporter Tran Nguyen at 541-776-4485 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on twitter @nguyenntrann.