2023 Year in Review of Ashland’s City Government in Turmoil by David Runkel

2023 Year in Review – City Government in Turmoil

 

January 3 – Councilor Tonya Graham sworn in for second term on City Council.  

 

January 3 –Businessman Eric Hansen and environmental activist Rob Kaplan sworn in as members of City Council, replacing Stefi Seffinger and Steve Jensen who did not seek reelection.

 

January 27 – Mayor Julie Akins resigns for personal and professional reasons.

 

January 28 – Councilor Shaun Moran resigns citing failure of Council and the city manager’s failure to address city budget issues.

 

February 7 – Council unanimously appoints Tonya Graham as mayor, putting her in the office she unsuccessfully sought in 2021.

 

February 16 – Council again appoints Graham as mayor.  This time, after complaints filed by two residents with the state Ethics Committee, she does not participate in the process. 

 

March 15 — Council appoints Jeff Dahle, local businessman and former chair of the Airport Commission, to replace Graham on Council.

 

March 15 – Council appoints Dylan Bloom, a former student activist at Southern Oregon University, to replace Moran.

 

April 14 – City Recorder Melissa Hutala announces her resignation effective Aug. 31. 



April 21 – Accountant Shane Hunter re-elected chair of Budget Committee over former Parks Commission chair Mike Gardner; former councilor Eric Navickus elected vice chair.

 

April 27 – City Manager Joe Lessard and acting finance director Sabrina Cotta propose a $383.7 million two-year budget, up $80 million over 21-23.  The general fund has a $9 million gap between proposed income and expenditures.  

 

May 13 – Oregon Ethics Commission confirms Mayor Graham is being investigated for participating in the February 7 meeting where she was chosen by the Council to be mayor.  

 

May 16 – City voters reject, by a narrow margin, a proposed initiative that would have extended the food and beverage tax to 2040 and allocated nearly all of the tax income to the city’s parks and recreation department.

 

May 16 – Voters approve ballot initiative providing $800 a month stipend to the mayor and members of city council.

 

May 25 – Budget Committee approves budget, 11 to 3, with minor changes. 

 

June 1 – Parks Director Michael Black announces his resignation effective July 14 after nine years.

 

June 3 – Council approves 23-25 budget with expenditures of $378,256,730, up 27 percent from 21-23.

 

June 7 – City awarded additional $1 million from state for homeless shelter, bringing total to more than $2 million for homeless programs. 

 

July 11 – Parks Commission member  Leslie Eldridge, a SOU environmental science professor, appointed interim parks director.

 

August 15 – Council unanimously approves purchase of Coming Attractions office building at 2200 Ashland Street for $2 million plus interest on a 20-year, $600,000 note for use as a homeless shelter.  Community residents oppose the purchase saying they were not consulted beforehand.  No appraisal was made of the property which the Jackson county tax office valued at $1,347,350.

 

August 30 – City agrees to $700,000 settlement with former Oak Knoll superintendent Laura Chancellor who had been harassed and discriminated against by Parks Director Black and three golf course employees.

 

September 6 – Parks Commission appoints former Councilor Stefi Seffinger to fill Eldridge’s seat on commission.

 

September 9 – Oregon Ethics Commission reveals that Mayor Graham will receive a “letter of education” with regard to her participation in the Feb. 7 Council meeting where she was elected mayor. 

 

September 16 – A preliminary fiscal year end report discloses a $320,000 decline in food and beverage tax income, a $500,000 drop in planning and building fee revenue and $63,000 less in system development charges.

 

October 2 – City Manager Joe Lessard discloses that the building purchased for a homeless shelter does not meet city fire code. 

 

October 3 – The developer of the planned 230-unit Grand Terrace apartment complex off North Main Street drops plans for the project.

 

October 4 – Parks and Recreation Commission approves closing parks between midnight and 5 p.m. and allowing limited sales and consumption of wine and beer at special events in parks.

 

October 17 – On the recommendation of City Manager Joe Lessard, Council approves the appointment of Alissa Kolodzinski, a city budget official, to be City Recorder.  No public search was conducted.

 

October 24 – Lessard resigns as city manager at the request of Mayor Graham and members of the City Council and given a departure package valued at more than $200,000. 

 

November 1 – Fire Marshal Ralph Sartain issues temporary occupancy permit for 24/7 homeless shelter at 2200 Ashland Street, which opens for 32 people with two bathrooms, no bathing facilities.

 

November 7 – Carmel Zahran appointed city attorney.

 

November 15 – Consultant recommends 77 percent increase in city water rates, already among the highest in the state and double those of Medford.  Income would be used to partially pay for construction of a new water treatment plant estimated to cost between $55 million to $70 million.

 

November 19 – Deputy city manager Sabrina Cotta is named city manager pro tem.

 

December 18 – Council passes camping restriction law, 4 to 2.

 

December 18 – Cotta announces homeless shelter will close March 31 due to fire code violations.  No money has been appropriated for installation of a sprinkler system and other major building alterations. 

 

December 18 – Council unanimously votes to put a city charter change before voters in May to eliminate the elective position of city recorder and instead make the position appointive.  The proposed language does not state who would make the appointment.

 

December 22 – Zahran announces she will not accept city attorney appointment, but will remain as assistant.

 

December 23 – City report shows that income from the transient occupancy tax dropped below $2 million in the last fiscal year for the first time in 10 years.

 

December 26 – City report shows 10 year low in residential building permits in last fiscal year and half as many commercial projects as in several years in the last decade.

 

Compiled by David Runkel

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