It has been five months since the fall elections. For many of us these five months have felt like a revolution. Personally, my appetite for the crises of the day is waning. I've come to the conclusion we all would be well advised to pay attention instead to the kind of community we want to become. This is where we need to invest our energy and resources. Here are examples:
1) The City Council recently adopted the Climate Energy & Action Plan, and I am choosing members of an implementation commission. Moreover, institutionalizing CEAP in an ordinance is under discussion. There are fundamental tensions surrounding this concept, but I believe resolving them is worth the effort because it will move us further toward transforming our community in ways consistent with the plan's goals.
2) Last week I signed a document formalizing the completion of the three-year period during which Asante could release itself from its agreement with the city to take over Ashland Community Hospital. Instead, both parties have fulfilled their obligations and ACH is now a permanent part of the Asante organization. It is also a successful hospital within the city limits that serves the community's needs and in ways we didn't even envision when the original agreement was signed.
3) Next week the City Council will set funding priorities for council goals to be incorporated into the official budget for presentation to the Budget Committee in May. For the first time during the 10 years I've been involved, goal-setting will be properly synchronized with constructing the budget. This is thanks to two initiatives. The first, conceived by Pam Marsh and Dennis Slattery three years ago, was to produce goals and strategies with direct implications for the city's financial plan. The second, made possible by Interim Finance Director and Budget Officer Bev Adams, allows incorporating the results of Pam's and Dennis's initiative into the fiscal years 2017-19 budget.
4a) The City Council is modifying key ordinances aimed at preserving order in our public spaces, especially downtown. We are also considering increasing the size of our chronically under-staffed police department. This will allow the police to deal with simultaneous events in different parts of town and maintain a greater presence downtown. It will also allow them to spend more time in their individual interactions with citizens to reduce confrontations and build face-to-face relationships that are the foundation of community policing. I believe that, within safeguards of state and federal constitutions, we need to do all we can to preserve Ashland's quality of life.
4b) At the same time, the city has been collaborating, formally and informally, with an emerging group of community partners who have been helping our local homeless population and simultaneously building relationships, trust and cooperation with these individuals they serve. This is our local version of the “infrastructure” I have observed that has been so effective in Eugene's work with its local homeless and it can enable us to increasingly re-incorporate our counterparts in the life of our community where they belong. (This does not address problems associated with the domestic refugee crisis affecting cities all along the I-5 corridor.)
All of these can be criticized and may not satisfy everyone but, I believe, compared with two years ago, the city and community are significantly more engaged in a concerted effort. Long-term, I don't think we can expect to achieve a static equilibrium in our community, but will need to be continually problem-solving, debating, creating and trying out new measures as we respond to the disruptive change in our environment.
Note also that they involve or depend on the quality of our person-to-person relationships. All in all, this may be good for us. In William Stafford's words, "For it is important that awake people be awake, or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep." (See "A Ritual To Read To Each Other" for context. I keep trying to get you to read this poem!)
To share your own examples of community building in our town, mail them to me at email@example.com with the subject line "Community Building."
— John Stromberg is mayor of Ashland.