City Council Candidate Forum
Nine candidates for Ashland City Council gave their views on city government October 9 at the Unitarian-Universalist Fellowship. The candidates are: Tonya Graham and Mike Morris in District 2; Jackie Bachman, Al Wilstatter, and Julie Akins in District 3; Stefani Seffinger and Carol Voisin in District 4, and George Kramer and Stephen Jensen in District 6. State Rep. Pam Marsh was moderator, and the forum was sponsored by Mountain Meadows Democrats Plus.
In introductory remarks, Tonya Graham said she was running because “If something needs to be fixed, we need to step up. There are challenges facing Ashland. How can we help our community grapple with difficult issues and remain resilient and sustainable?” Mike Morris said he is a sixth generation Ashlander. “I care about this town,” he said.
Jackie Bachman said when she moved here she attended every council meeting and every commission meeting. “We need to protect our environment,” she said. Al Wilstatter wants to amend the city charter to abolish the Council District system and go back to electing from a slate of candidates, with the top vote getters the winners. Julie Akins said she covered the City Council for the Tidings but had to quit after two years because she found herself in conflict with councilors. She believes in affordable housing, the need to be more aggressive in establishing public-private partnerships, creating more living-wage jobs, and establishing a more than sustainable environment.
Stefani Seffinger said, “My interest and passion for the position (councilor) has only grown. I like to problem solve and am concerned about programs for climate change and homelessness.” Carol Voisin said she will represent all those who live in Ashland, not just the well connected. “The UN IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) clearly states our danger. We must act now,” she said.
Although he is an expert on Ashland history, George Kramer said he is more interested in the future. “The average family can’t live here when the median-priced house costs $400,000. Young people ought to have a chance to live here.” Stephen Jensen describes himself as a critical thinker who can temper logical decisions with heart and soul.
How do you determine priorities and what are they?
Bachman: Basic immediate needs come first. We must protect the environment and live within our means. We must use the right people, the right process, collaboration, and real listening. You won’t find a city staff as competent as ours in any other city of Ashland’s size.
Wilstatter: The city budget is unsustainable. We created those demands, and now we must fix the problem.
Akins: My priority is affordable housing. It is not a good thing when schools close. The city relies on tourism and encourages tourist industries to survive. We must build a “third wheel.”
Seffinger: I want our kids to be able to live here. We must maintain the city’s quality of life for everyone. We need a new strategic plan. In recent years the government has changed federal spending and is not covering what it used to.
Voisin: You pay the bills with your hard-earned money. What services are must haves, and what can we do without? We need a balanced city budget.
Kramer: My priorities are the budget and affordable housing. Economic diversity is a great idea, but I don’t think we can do that in a town of 20,000 people.
Jensen: We must learn to fine tune the art of the possible and identity funding sources before the fact, not after. We must stay in our own league financially.
Graham: The primary goal of city government is to provide services in a cost effective manner. We must make sure the budget is sound. We must spot problems, find solutions, and implement them.
Morris: Watershed management, the golf course, the airport, quality of life, and feeling safe are all important. He noted that Ashland Hospital was saved by Asante.
Ashland’s expenses increased 45% from 2007-2018. Is this sustainable?
Seffinger: We’re going in the right direction. The budget process is more transparent and understandable. We need to work together to provide a budget that’s balanced.
Voisin: PERS (Public Employees Retirement System) is the single greatest cause of budget increases, with 275 people receiving benefits. I was shocked by the approval of five new police officers after the Citizens’ Budget Committee had recommended against that expansion. The Citizens’ Budget Committee is a critical part of the budget process and their voices must be heard. We also must return to an annual budget cycle.
Kramer: A lot of Ashland’s budget is out of its control—PERS is baked in. We could rent equipment rather than buying it and not waste money on studies. We must stop fee increases, which fall hardest on the weakest among us.
Graham: Managing taxpayer money is the most important thing a council does. Some of that money comes with restricted uses.
Morris: There are fewer city employees now than there were in 2007. The city must believe in itself and invest in itself to keep the community strong.
Bachman: Benefits increased 48% during that time period, which is not out of line when dealing with health care. Dedicated money no longer goes directly to Parks but to the city. We need to be fiscally responsible for every decision we take and correct misunderstandings about budget reserves.
Wilstatter: Citizens must demand a change to the charter.
Akins: The Council ignored the Citizens’ Budget Committee in hiring four new police officers. We must have a plan first before spending money.
What must the city do to reduce climate change?
Kramer: I tend to be skeptical of the 10X20 plan. What can we do to reduce the use of vehicles in the city?
Jensen: Our global yet local primary goals are to protect our water sources and prevent fires by thinning, piling, and burning. The goal of 100% renewables is a bridge too far.
Graham: We must conserve energy whenever we can, and these processes will create family-wage jobs. We need a task force of civic organizations and SOU to create a solid set of climate change targets. Once we tip over the 1.5 celsius temperature increase, there’s no going back. We must fast-track CEEP.
Morris: Don’t use natural gas, don’t drive the kids to school. It is up to everyone in this room as to what steps we are willing to take to reduce our emissions by 8% a year.
Bachman: The city needs to lead the way with a CEEP plan, expanding and improving bike lanes, walkways, and forest resiliency plans. Knowledge is power. If we work together we can do this.
Wilstatter: Schools are the only organization with a bus system. We must change that.
Akins: We must provide incentives to conserve and there are things we can do to be innovative. The Imperatrice property is one example.
Seffinger: It’s a question of what we’re doing and will continue to do. An implementation committee is looking at benchmarks and looking at each department’s expenditures using a tool to find the carbon footprint. This issue is vital to the next generation.
Voisin: We are in a dire emergency. We have just 10 years to act on 800 billion tons of carbon emissions. There is no return. We have to think bigger and receive 50% of our power from renewables. 10X20 is on the back burner. We must declare a climate emergency.