Retired Woman Lawyer With Civility Challenges Ashland City Councilor

COUNCILOR ROSENTHAL’S COUNCIL CORNER

Council Corner: The worst thing about the recall

BY  Rich Rosenthal August 22, 2018

Last March, Ashland voters resoundingly rejected recall initiatives to remove three elected volunteer parks and recreation commissioners. Approximately 30 citizens upset with management decisions involving the Ashland Senior Center solicited signatures from hundreds of registered voters, often misleading residents in their quest to deploy the nuclear option of local government-change tools: the highly divisive recall election.

Fortunately, this nasty brand of politics was rejected by a whopping 69 percent margin with fewer “yes” votes cast than the number of signatures gathered to trigger the recall in the first place. The effort failed miserably, and the transition to a new and more responsive era for older-adult programs and services provided by the city of Ashland continues.

The purpose of this letter is not to recount one of the darkest moments in Ashland’s history, nor is it to point out the waste of $24,581 of taxpayer resources for a special election when a general election was only seven months away.

Instead, the latest and worst fact about the failed recall effort is none of the chief petitioners and their signature gatherers stepped up to run for any of the three Parks and Recreation Commission positions up for election this November. None!

Criticizing the imperfections of municipal government is easy, but stepping forward to run for election is apparently too daunting for those demanding change only a few weeks ago.

The most effective way to influence public policy is to become a policy maker. The pro-recall folks squandered their chance to champion their cause and whatever else they stand for in a proactive manner, in the traditional elective forum.

A RESPONSE TO COUNCILOR ROSENTHAL

The Worst Thing? Really?  September 20, 2018

City Councilor Rosenthal wrote a Tidings Council Corner article on August 22 entitled “The Worst Thing about the Recall.”  The worst thing about the article is that he got everything wrong!

The group known as SOS (Support Our Seniors) ranged from 30 to over 200 people, who did not know each other but attended city meetings and eventually joined to gather signatures for the recall petitions.  The public learned, without prior notice, that the Senior Center Programs were to be shifted to the Grove, all staff laid off, and the Center perhaps closed.  At the August 8 and 9, 2017 APRC meetings, the public unanimously asked commissioners to delay their action on any changes until the public could weigh in.  Citizens’ pleas were ignored and changes were enacted.

The City Council, identified in the City Charter as the “final decision makers,” refused to get involved.  Ashlanders were told that there was “nothing to talk about.” As a last resort, the petitions gauged whether there was public concern about APRC decisions being made without sufficient public involvement.  Over 1650 signatures were gathered for three commissioners.  The high bar for a special election was met.  Citizens spoke with their signatures so that there could be a vote. This is a remedy granted in law, that citizens have the right to recall elected officials who are in breach of the public trust.

Signature gatherers diligently explained the five reasons for the recall, which were meticulously researched from public record.  Voters knew exactly what they were signing and why.  It is demeaning to suggest otherwise.

Rosenthal’s statement that 69% of Ashland voters were against the recall is inaccurate and misleading. Only 38.3% of registered voters voted in the special election.  This means that 61.7% of qualified voters did not vote. Two-thirds of those who cast votes voted against recall while one-third voted for recall.  More people voted for recall than verified signatures on the petitions. Rosenthal insults those who voted to say that the recall “failed miserably.”

Even though the general election was eight months away, seniors reasonably felt it was unwise to wait. With a decimated program and loss of the extraordinary staff, delay in senior services could truly be a matter of life and death. The new Senior Center program has taken a year to develop and required an additional $100,000 to meet new staffing requirements. Remember, one of the key justifications commissioners gave for laying off of five staff and revamping the senior program was cost containment! Historically, the Senior Center had always come in well under its $175,000 budget. Now the budget has ballooned to $275,000.

Research revealed that APRC had many serious problems.  They were running an annual $500,000 deficit. At the same time, they were planning for a 3.5 million dollar swimming pool with no revenue stream to pay for or maintain it.  Yet, the only program under their budget scrutiny was the Senior Center. Because of the precipitous action taken by the Parks Commissioners, the city now faces a wrongful termination lawsuit that could reach over $1,000,000.  APRC’s budget mismanagement dwarfs any money spent to bring this to public awareness.

The purpose of this article is not to throw mud on those who disagree with the constitutional right of recall.  It is to illuminate the so-called “darkest hour.”  The tone and language of Rosenthal’s article exemplifies the historical and ongoing bullying and intimidation directed at those who have valid but differing opinions from Ashland elected officials. Citizens advocate for an open process, authentically representing the public, before decisions are made.

Finally, it should be noted that no Commissioner or Councilor is running unopposed in the upcoming November election.  This hasn’t happened in Ashland in years.

Support Our Seniors

By: Sandra Sawyer, Ashland

//inserted by Sharon