Ashland’s Election Reflections by Severeid

By Susanne Severeid

It was with heartfelt congratulations that I emailed Julie Akins today on her win as Ashland’s new mayor. There can be no doubt that the voters of Ashland have opted for significant change and have collectively decided that the opposing candidate with endorsements from the mayor and several sitting council members was not the right direction for our city.

It seems the majority of voters connected the dots and concluded that Ashland’s current fiscal situation is, in large part, a consequence of the management of the past twelve years under Mayor John Stromberg and his coterie of entrenched city council members who have brushed away repeated dire warnings by the Citizens Budget Committee, and have often appeared to treat citizen input with disdain. Even after the crushing defeat of the City Hall Bond, Stromberg and others on the council still didn’t hear–or heed–the drumbeat of the local citizenry, remaining as tone deaf as they have been for the past several years to sincere, thoughtful public concern.

It doesn’t take a financial wizard to see what anyone walking down our main street can easily discern: that is, a dearth of wallet-carrying visitors. In the time of COVID, and without the tourism-generating engines of OSF and other large venue activities, we are in economic crisis. Add to this Ashland’s ongoing issues: lack of affordable housing, high cost of living and doing business, large numbers of unhoused and hungry on the streets, and the aftermath of one of the most devastating fires in Oregon’s history.  Simply put, we’ve got trouble in River City.

I’m relieved for Ashland that so many voters saw through the nonsensical smear tactics used by some in this campaign. C’mon, to suggest that ACES was some sort of sinister, controlling PAC when they are asking for fiscal responsibility? Or that bizarre, phony-baloney Leave It To Beaver return-address postcard full of untruths about a council candidate sent out by some kooky coward who even used stamps in an attempt to hide his/her identity? Or the downright nastiness on some social media forums, resulting in legal cease and desist warnings? All of this in our little teacup of a town, Ashland.

A few years ago, I watched firsthand as the successful, fiscally responsible Senior Center Program was dismantled and gutted by the powers-that-were in this city. I watched as the needs of those we served on a daily basis—those among us who are the most vulnerable in our community—were left unsupported by our mayor, city council and the APRC. I watched as Jim Lewis (who I am sorry to see will still be sitting in his APRC chair) told an overflow crowd dismissively, “Change is hard.”

No, change is not always “hard.” Sometimes, as now, it is easy and is the best course possible.  For those looking forward to leadership in Ashland that has pledged to be more transparent, fiscally responsible, and responsive to citizen input, I say bravo: bravo for showing up to vote and for evaluating the issues, and bravo for holding the status quo responsible and giving them the heave-ho they deserve.       

Susanne Severeid is an award-winning author, public speaker and performer with a background in international journalism. Copyright 2020