Ashland City Councilors Propose Commission Changes

By Chronicle Staff

In a move to change the way City of Ashland commissioners are chosen Councilors Steve Jensen, Tonya Graham and Stefani Seffinger have proposed a new “vetting” process which was to have been heard at Tuesday’s regular council meeting but was delayed due to time constraints.

Currently, commissioners are chosen from applicants by the mayor and presented to councilors for their approval or rejection. The process has been in place for more than a dozen years with little to no change until the latest proposal which calls for commission chairpersons and council liaisons to recommend members from a selective pool as opposed to a wider process which ultimately leaves it to the mayor to present applicants to the council as a whole.

Councilor Jensen in discussing the proposal claimed the system needed better scrutiny with a deeper collaboration between commission chairs and council liaisons. His concern appears to have first emerged from an appointment to the Arts Commission of Cassie Preskenis to which Jensen, commission liaison, objected.

Preskenis and Jensen reportedly had a disagreement about the “Say their Names” display at Railroad Park in which Jensen, according to Preskenis, ordered the tee shirts affiliated with Black Lives Matter be removed, which she refused.

In an email obtained by The Chronicle Preskenis reported feeling intimidated by Jensen when she would not remove the memorial.

Preskenis was eventually seated on the Arts Commission, however, Councilor Jensen claims involving the liaisons and chairs will better qualify individuals for presentation to the mayor and later the council as a whole.

Jensen made no mention of the conflict in his proposal which he brought forward first with Graham and later Seffinger.

The proposal calls for:

a. Applicant interviewed by Chair and liaison and invited to attend commission meeting.

b. Vetting by Chair and liaison should be completed within 45 days.

c. Chair and liaison recommendation returned to City Recorder for presentation to Mayor.

Currently commissioners can be appointed by the mayor and approved by council within ten days of first applying.

The proposal has created widespread speculation on social media sites with some objecting and others like Linda Adams, Chairperson of the Transportation Commission supporting the plan.

“You [sic] are making a mountain out of a molehill. Councilor Seffinger has been trying to strengthen the Commission process for years and it is finally being brought to the Council for consideration. This is a good step forward to make the public understand how Commissions are truly advisory work horses for our community.”

Others like Patricia Turner harken back to the apparent dust up over the Arts Commission appointment in a recent post on social media site, “Next door”.

“Councilor Jensen is the liaison to the Arts Commission.  Mayor Akins appointed someone who didn’t fit the profile of the other members of the commission.  It sounds like a sorority/fraternity club situation.  The commissions shouldn’t pick their new members.”

Her sentiments were echoed by Mark DiRienzo who opposes the change as well.

“The best decisions are made with diverse inputs.  In general, a mayor and council will offer the broadest perspective of what citizens want on commissions rather than one volunteer commission chair and one council liaison throwing applicants out the door before the Mayor or Council get a say in whether those applicants might add perspective to a commission that’s missing a viewpoint.”

Meantime, the Ashland City Council unanimously agreed to appoint Mayor Akins recommendations for the newly formed Social Equity and Racial Justice Commission at Tuesday’s meeting.

“I’m impressed by the experience and background of these new commissioners,” said Councilor Seffinger of the mayor’s appointees.

The proposed changes to commission appointments has not yet been rescheduled but is expected later in June or July.