City Hall Tidbits

By David Runkel

Clean Up Time for City Council

Councilor Paula Hyatt is asking her colleagues to go along with a change in the role of the Housing and Human Services Advisory Committee in reviewing the city’s proposed new camping ordinance.

In a memo, she said her motion two weeks ago to have the committee conduct an evaluation “was made with limited meeting time remaining and as a result additional clarification is required. Originally the motion for a six-month review leveraged the Housing and Human Services Subcommittee as a key resource. After conferring with the Council Liaison to the Housing and Human Services Committee (HHS), it has been determined that the review is best done by the Council itself. 

“Currently the Housing and Human Services Subcommittee is engaged in a considerable body of work and appropriately needs to be able to focus their efforts on their charge. Subsequently, this agenda item is intended to provide an opportunity for the Council to amend the original motion and provide more detailed guidance on the six-month review,” Hyatt said. 

The amended direction could include refocusing the Housing and Human Services Subcommittee strictly on the (homeless) Master Plan and a Council review of the impact of the camping ordinance with the benefit of six months data from the police department on trespassing, theft, harassment and crime. 

When Is It Really Cold

In Ashland the cold weather emergency shelter opens when it’s 32 degrees or below; in Medford it’s 25 or below. 

Ashland City Council is being asked to take another look.  In a memo, Interim City Manager Sabrina Cotta and Emergency Management Coordinator Kelly Burns recommended “judiciously managing our resources by limiting operational days, ensuring that we are fully equipped to offer shelter during periods of the most severe and dangerous weather.  Staff recommends considering adjusting temperatures to match those of regional partners and including additional factors and considerations.”  

They recommended opening the emergency shelter at forecasted 25 degree or lower nights with the possibility of opening at 32 when severe conditions exist such as snow, wind, dense fog, sustained low temperatures, or overall severe conditions when warnings or watches are forecast.

The temperature thresholds have a fiscal impact on the city depending on where they are set. For example from November 1, 2022 to May 1, 2022, there were 127 days at or below 32 degrees, Cotta and Burns reported.   With an estimated $1,500 per night operation costs, the city’s expenses were $190,500. At the 25 degree mark, the shelter would have been open 53 days at a cost $79,500.  

“The fiscal impact will vary depending on heat, cold and smoke days per year,” councilors were told.  “One element to consider, the fiscal year begins July 1. Given the need to meet both heat and cold needs, the City may struggle to stand up and fund needed cold weather sheltering if the City experiences numerous extreme heat days.” 

Lessard Is Back in Austin, Texas

Although former city manager Joe Lessard remains on the city payroll for another five weeks, he’s 2,050 miles away.  Shortly after he resigned at the request of Mayor Tonya Graham and the City Council, he moved back to Austin, Texas where he had lived for many years before moving here in 2021.

Under a three-page agreement unanimously approved by the Council last October, Lessard will receive full pay through Jan. 31, health insurance through April 30 and be eligible for employee benefits including vacation time “pursuant to his employment contract.”  He will also receive an estimated $60,000 in severance pay.