I've said before that I sometimes think on our “Welcome to Ashland” signs, our town slogan underneath should read “It’s Complicated.” That seems to embody what it is like to deal with the myriad issues we confront in our community. Some are ones we choose to confront rather than ignore, such as climate change, inequity, affordable housing and poverty. Others we must deal with by law — budgets, taxes etc. However, each challenge involves many layers that must be carefully peeled back, considered and examined before we take the next step as a city government.
I know this view frustrates some people. The issues we face do have a real effect on our lives, so there is an interest in finding solutions quickly, but it is important that we not sacrifice quality planning and long-term solutions for the temporary satisfaction that comes from aggressive action.
Still, I hear from some in the community that we must move immediately on certain decisions, even if not all the information is known. In fact, a former city councilor wrote on social medial that there was “no reason for the council and mayor not to take action immediately” regarding a very complex issue. This type of rhetoric, especially from people in the community who know better, is not only misleading to citizens who may not fully understand the complex details of the issues at hand and the obstacles we face in addressing them, but is also a dangerous way to make decisions in general.
I have been placed in positions in my professional life where I was required to make important, life-and-death decisions quickly, without the benefit of all of the information I would like, but those decisions required immediate action due to the circumstances that existed at the time. The decisions we face at the city government level are most often not as time-sensitive. Yes, these issues affect the lives of many and the overall livability of our community, but few require such an immediate response that we should knowingly charge ahead, without fully understanding every angle of the issue, simply to satisfy a desire for action.
Haven’t we seen so many examples, especially lately, where government has charged ahead with a statement, strategy, plan or policy that was not fully thought out just for political expediency? On a much larger scale, such hasty decision-making can have large impacts. They can throw entire countries and even regions into disarray for years and waste enormous amounts of money. While the impacts of hasty decision-making on a local level may be on a much smaller scale, we must still recognize that the satisfaction gained from immediate action is fleeting and could be far overshadowed by the long-term costs.
I certainly recognize how important affordable housing and climate change are, for example, but I am also committed to taking the time to find the best solutions that will be sustainable. I will not be swayed by the loudest person in the room (or online) to simply take action for short-term political gain, without asking the tough questions that are necessary, challenging preconceived notions and taking the time to examine any and all possible ripples that may come as a result of the decisions I make on these issues. Like my fellow councilors, I will seek to eliminate any “group think” that I can and drill down to the best possible decision for the community, which I believe will also have the longest positive impact. I fully recognize that no decision on such complicated topics can be accurately judged in the immediate aftermath, but I will continue to be dedicated to the ideal that any decision I make will fully consider all the potential angles and ramifications. In the end, I would much rather get it right than get it fast.
As a result, I ask my fellow community members to continue contributing to the dialogue and the process with their ideas and concerns and to hold us accountable. Also, know that I and my fellow members of the City Council hear them and want to do what is best, but please be patient and allow us to get it right as well.
— Greg Lemhouse is a member of the Ashland City Council.