Ashland: Broken Trust and Crucial Decisions Ahead

Stark Contrasts, Broken Trust & Crucial Decisions Ahead By Bryan Holley, Ashland

Last year, I feared we were losing local representative government. But then citizens got a breath of hope: The canal project was rejected; voters said no by a big majority to the City Hall bond; and they said yes, convincingly, to move to a strong city manager government. Voices on council, including some currently campaigning, were ‘wrong’ on all three. They seemed tone-deaf and out-of-step with the citizens they serve.

Now our city is faced with unprecedented challenges. We are dealing with the Covid virus and all its repercussions, including the severe negative economic impact on local businesses. Brutal police murders around the country require a re- examination of our country’s race and class inequities. We witnessed a horrific fire that took lives and destroyed homes, here and in our ‘sister cities’ of Talent and Phoenix. And, regrettably, our city’s budget situation is precarious, indeed.

Facing these existential issues, you know what seems frivolous to me?—one wealthy man’s desire to remodel our beloved Japanese Garden in Lithia Park as a death memorial. He bought his way onto the Parks’ agenda and, remarkably, Council could approve this contract soon. Er, wait, it’s on the consent agenda. No discussion required!

What I want to bring to your attention is the Ashland Save Our Seniors’ documentary, ‘Foul Play’. All engaged citizens must find time to watch this one- hour, locally-produced, public-information-based film. You might be shocked, as I was, to observe the facts unfold of how our Parks Director, a couple Parks Commissioners, our City Attorney and our HR director met, away from the public eye, to eliminate our well-functioning Senior Center; only to ‘replace’ it with a shadow of its former self. Warning: you’ll cringe watching some individuals answer questions under oath and on tape, but please watch it.

The film reveals the simple facts and you shall decide for yourself. For me, these officials have broken the democratic trust between voters and those we elect and appoint. We each have one reputation to lose in a small town. After watching this film, the Parks Director and Parks Commissioners have lost my trust. As they respond to legal questions in the film, you realize they seem to lose credibility answer by answer. What’s astounding is that none of these people felt compelled to resign and one is asking for re-election as Parks Commissioner!

Amazingly, this same Parks’ team of staff and commissioners who lost the half- million-dollar Senior Center wrongful termination lawsuit now want council to approve this garden scheme, conceived behind closed doors. When you read the Director’s staff report, please note how his careful words attempt to revise the history of what actually happened! He can write what he wants, but what’s factual is that if we citizens hadn’t raised consciousness about this flawed plan, two of the grandest Douglas firs in Lithia Park would be dead. Tellingly, this man did not find the courtesy to mention this.

But I digress. The central point I am making is that it is time for this Mayor and Council to put on hold any and all policy decisions, like this Parks’ contract that is sliding forward while our town is on its knees. Respectfully, this Council is a lame- duck body and it is appropriate to focus its time on Covid, fire-related and recovery issues. I beg they refrain from all policy decisions (including the obvious, much- needed reform of our Parks Department and Parks Commission). Allow our new mayor and new council the opportunity to make long-term decisions. Please

give voters our time to speak; then we all move forward together to solve our many issues.

Meanwhile, I wonder what the six Parks employees who lost their jobs last spring think about how bizarre it is, in these fiscally desperate times, that Parks stumbles on to satisfy one man’s Japanese Garden fantasy?

Bryan Holley

Bryan lives in Ashland and is a former Tree Commissioner