Facebook Post: Ashland Doesn’t Have a “strong mayor” Form of Government

Dave Kanner and Nancy Boyer posted in Ashland Politics.
Dave Kanner
June 20 at 5:07 PM
Hello class. Today’s “Public Administration 101” topic: Ashland does NOT have a “strong mayor” form of government and John Stromberg needs to stop saying that it does. His repeated assertion that Ashland has a strong mayor form is a Trumpian untruth along the lines of “I have the power to pardon myself. ”

“Strong mayor” means the mayor is both the political/ceremonial head of government and the administrative head of government. There is only one city in Oregon that uses a strong mayor form of government and that is Beaverton. The city charter of Beaverton states, “the mayor is the executive and administrative head of the government of the city.” The Beaverton charter goes on to state that the mayor shall have “control over appointive city officers and employees and their work with power to transfer an employee from one department to another, to the end of obtaining the utmost efficiency in each of them; see that all ordinances are enforced and that the provisions of all franchises, leases, contracts, permits and privileges granted by the city are observed; act as the purchasing agent for all departments of the city; prepare and submit to the budget committee the annual budget; and supervise the operation of all public utilities owned or operated by the city and have general supervision over all city property.”

There is no such language in Ashland’s city charter. Never has been and hopefully never will be. To the contrary, the Ashland charter stipulates that the mayor and council shall (not may) SHALL appoint a city administrator. The municipal code then assigns to the city administrator general administrative responsibilities for running all city departments (except Parks) and enforcing all city ordinances.

I would guess that Stromberg’s mistaken belief that Ashland has a strong mayor form of government derives from ego and from a single line in the city charter that states, “the mayor is the executive officer of the municipal corporation.” However, that term is not defined anywhere in the charter. It was written no doubt in 1908 and nobody really knows what it means. The municipal code also gives the mayor the authority to, with the consent of the council and pursuant to the city administrator’s recommendation, hire and fire department heads. That is the single biggest difference between a city manager and a city administrator. A city manager hires and fires all staff, including department heads, and does not need the concurrence of the council or the mayor to do so.

I believe the ongoing assertion that Ashland has a strong mayor form of government hurt the city very badly in the recent city administrator recruitment. I am told by someone with inside knowledge that the city received very few applications from qualified candidates. That could be because of the advertisement for the job on the ICMA website — the primary means by which qualified candidates would find out about the job — stated that Ashland has a “mayor/council” form of government. That’s a euphemism for strong mayor. The problem is that no experienced city manager or city administrator (or certainly very, very few) are willing to work in a strong mayor form of government and wouldn’t even bother to apply.

As a result, the finalist field for the position consisted of two current city employees (one of whom is grossly unqualified for the job), an Ashland resident who currently works for the city of Medford and two other candidates who arguably don’t meet the minimum qualifications as advertised. And the city paid $24,500 for that finalist field. A Daily Tidings editorial laughably called that “money well spent.” Nonsense! The city could have gotten the same finalist field by simply placing a $600 ad on the ICMA website and forgoing the services of the consultant.

Ashland is not a strong mayor form of government. It is a council/administrator form of government, and that’s how it should have been advertised. The council is probably too unknowledgeable about various forms of government to correct Stromberg, but someone needs to step up and tell him to cut it out. As we saw in this recruitment, it is hurting the city of Ashland. It also is another argument for bringing the city charter into the 21st century, although I don’t have much hope for that happening anytime soon given the city’s fierce resistance to change.