Ashland Parks and Recreation Commissioners Have Broken Trust with Ashland Citizens
What is going on with the Ashland Parks & Recreation Commission and a growing, large number of outspoken Ashland citizens? We’ve all read the Tidings article, October 26, under their monthly column “Park View,” in which Parks & Rec commissioners present their side of the Senior Center issue. Before we get to the issue, I would note that most Ashlanders don’t realize these five men are elected commissioners. I barely recall voting for the commissioners myself, but none of them faced opponents, a fact that bears consideration. I surmise that, because commissioners have little actual political power, potential opponents may be disinterested. I have a feeling, however, that in the 2018 and 2020 elections, there may be more candidates for the Parks Commission positions.
In the Tidings article, the five commissioners want us, the Ashland public, to know about the decision they made regarding our integrated senior program and center. Local and statewide directors of similar programs hold Ashland’s senior program as a model for other cities. The program was working well while undergoing consistent and creative additions to the program based on the needs of Ashland’s seniors and led by competent and well trained staff. Even though this was a program that wasn’t “broken,” the commissioners felt that it needed significant structural change. Whenever elected officials and staff use the word “change,” beware! These officials must explain in depth what the change evolves from and what it changes to. They must also explain to the public how this change will happen and why it is needed. Remember this is our Center paid for by our tax dollars, and it would be our dollars paying for the change. We need answers, and the Tidings article didn’t begin to provide those answers.
One thing elected officials should never do is presume superiority by claiming Ashlanders have difficulty dealing with change. Condescension toward their Ashland constituents is a bullying attitude that will always come back to bite elected officials.
The commissioners write that they decided to change the Senior Program―that wasn’t broken― because of “budget constraints and calls for additional services.” It is surprising that the commission faces budget constraints when it comes to the Senior Center. The cost of the Senior Center is just $175,000, barely 2% of their total budget. Other programs like North Mountain Nature Center, the Rotary ice skating rink, the Oak Knoll Golf Course, and the Recreation Divisions cost millions. These programs and divisions operate consistently far over their budgets, so why is it the Senior Center in particular faces “constraints” when the other far larger programs do not? The “calls” for additional services is puzzling. I haven’t discovered a professionally designed survey or even a feasibility study that indicates that there is a “call” for anything. The Commission should reveal to the public the basis for these “calls” and justify them based on a professional study rather than unsubstantiated conversations. As taxpayers, we need more data before APRC changes a program that isn’t broken.
Finally, elected commissioners serve the Ashland public. To do so effectively, they must hear from us about decisions and changes they are considering. I know elected officials feel that they represent us and therefore don’t need to listen to us because that is why we elected them. They assume we trust them to do the right thing. The commissioners broke this trust when they tried to have private subcommittee meetings about the Senior Center. The City Recorder had to advise them they were in violation of State of Oregon Public Meetings law by failing to notify the public of the meetings and then failing to allow the public to speak. True, public pressure and the City Recorder set them back on the right track. After citizens testified before the City Council that APRC and staff weren’t being transparent with the public or allowing them to speak, the chair of APRC and the department head promised they would notify citizens and allow them to speak at every meeting, especially at the new and hastily formed ad hoc committee handpicked by the Parks’ staff to mediate the mess. But guess what? Even that is not happening. At the meeting to determine the subject matter and direction of future meetings, the public was allowed no input. As of this moment, trust between the APRC and the public is utterly broken.
For more information go to the Support Our Seniors website – http://www.ashlandsos.com/