Councilor Greg Lemhouse announced his decision to step down from his post just more than a year into his third term as councilor at Tuesday night's Ashland City Council meeting.
Lemhouse said he has been considering the option since last summer to allow more time to spend with his family and to be able to pursue his work in the private sector without raising concerns over conflicts of interest.
“I have spent nine years serving this community — It’s a significant chunk of my life,” Lemhouse said while delivering his speech, during which he paused several times to regain his composure after becoming emotional. “I want to be selfless as a nature as an example for my kids … but in the meantime, I missed out a lot of things with my family that I can’t anymore.”
Lemhouse, a current Oregon registered lobbyist, said at the meeting one reason for him stepping down is to “avoid conflict of interest” in the future.
Lemhouse joined Medford-based JWA Public Affairs in 2017, according to his LinkedIn page. His clients, according to the state registry, include Asante, Burrill Real Estate, Coquille Economic Development Corporation, Grown Rogue, Knife River Materials, Rogue Credit Union and Rogue Valley Properties.
“The people I work with deserve to have me at their fullest disposal for me to do everything I can for them, and the people of Ashland need somebody to sit here and represent them without having to hold back,” Lemhouse said at the meeting. “I don’t feel I can adequately do that.”
After an almost two-decade career in law enforcement, Lemhouse jumped into Ashland politics in 2006. He was elected to the council in 2008 and re-elected in 2012 and 2016. Former president of Ashland Emergency Food Bank and board member of So Humane, Lemhouse was also the Vice President for Workforce Development for Southern Oregon Goodwill for two years before he became the Senior Account Executive at JWA Public Affairs in 2017.
Another reason, Lemhouse said, for him to step down is to make time for his family and be present for his children as they are growing up.
“Last summer when I got a call from my dad that my (older) brother … was suffering from a massive heart attack,” Lemhouse said, adding his dad is also fighting a hereditary illness. “That’s when I realized I’m not invincible anymore.”
He spoke at length about the many times he missed baseball games and dance recitals with tears in his eyes.
“I apologize for doing this, but the city is in great hands,” Lemhouse said, referring to his fellow councilors, the mayor and city staff, as he thanked each of them for the time they spent together serving the city.
Councilor Dennis Slattery called Lemhouse “a remarkable leader.”
“Ashland just lost one of its all-time great councilors,” Councilor Rich Rosenthal said.
Mayor John Stromberg recalled at the meeting the first conflict between Lemhouse and him over a nudity ban proposed by Lemhouse.
“And I thought, ‘Oh no,’ and I voted against it,” Stromberg said. “But then it happened where a guy marched nude in front of the schools. That’s when it hit me, that you were right.”
Stromberg said that’s when he learned how to trust Lemhouse’s judgment and instinct.
Councilors Mike Morris, Traci Darrow and Stefani Seffinger joined in thanking Lemhouse for his work on the council.
“I think your kids are watching this and will be getting involved,” Morris said. “That seems to happen.”
Darrow said beside being a public servant, Lemhouse was also dedicated with the food bank and coaching a the football team.
“I don’t know how you do it all,” she said. “Everything you do, you do with great integrity.”
“Your work shows the kind of person you are,” Seffinger said.
The council has 60 days to appoint a new councilor to take Lemhouse’s place, staff said. The position would then be on the ballot for the November election, and the newly elected councilor will serve for the two years remaining in Lemhouse's term.
Before saying his final words as a councilor, Lemhouse gave an observation about the Ashland community.
“I would be lying if I say I’m not concernined about how things are heading,” Lemhouse said. “I do hope Ashland will rise to the occasion. Take care of each other. Respect each other … For some reasons, compromise has become a dirty word. … It’s not about winning or losing. It’s about taking a step forward everyday to get better.”
— Reach reporter Tran Nguyen at 541-776-4485 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on twitter @nguyenntrann.