Jim Falkenstein

Have any of you ever run for City Council? It’s fulfilling, eye-opening, and weird. Some things you don’t see coming. People you’ve known for a long time share with you disturbing opinions that you wish they hadn’t. For example, have you ever met an anti-gun activist who would make exceptions for shooting deer on Siskiyou Blvd? Welcome to Ashland.  

There are also things you absolutely can anticipate. One of those is an e-mail from ACES (Ashland Citizens for Economic Sustainability) asking what your position is on a variety of budget related issues. When I received my e-mail I set up a breakfast at The Brickroom with Susan from the ACES team.

My understanding of ACES is this: In 2018 or so, a group of present and/or former budget committee members became frustrated that the existing city council, city administer, and finance director, were not taking their concerns about systemic over-spending seriously.  So they created this group and began writing newspaper articles, sending letters to the city, and generally chiming in on city decisions with the single minded focus on getting the city to live within its means.

Over the years ACES’ detractors decried what they framed as petty complaining and an unsympathetic call for a reduction in city employees. As is too often the case, both sides ramped up the confrontational rhetoric and dug in.

If you’ve been following Ashland government at all, you will know that in May of this year the city manager and city council held three long emergency meetings to restructure and cut the city budget from top to bottom to keep things balanced for the 2022-2023 budget year. ACES’ concerns, questions and recommendations over the years proved to be pretty spot-on. 

Our breakfast meeting was delightful. We discussed some of their recent articles. Susan had seen some of my 5 Minute Meeting videos and told me that I was amazing. (That’s not a quote, more of an “interpretation.”) We then talked through a number of scenarios past, present, and future regarding city council votes and budget decisions.  Exactly what anyone would expect and hope for from a group calling itself Ashland Citizens for Economic Sustainability. 

In the end, I told Susan that I supported ACES’ three main tenets.

1: Insure that our city is on sound financial footing while holding to current levels of fees, levies, surcharges and any other tax burdens on the taxpayers of Ashland.

2: Demand separate accountable public reporting for prioritized projects (including large capital improvement projects) that match forecasted to actual expenses.

3: Strive to diversify our existing economy to create additional jobs beyond tourism.

That’s some very reasonable stuff.  How to address those goals can be debated but I would interpret them this way. 

-The city needs to live within its means. Find smart ways to save money and do the city’s basic work more efficiently.

-The city needs to more publicly announce and promote future projects with realistic start date estimates and cost expectations that they will continuously update and strive to maintain.

-The city needs to overhaul the planning department so that new small to large businesses can be more readily set up in Ashland.

I believe that any group in town with a very specific agenda, like ACES, should have their suggestions objectively considered by the city. Prioritizing all input and ideas is the job of a City Councilor. I am of the strong opinion that ACES’ proposals are valuable, well thought out, and well intentioned. I look forward to obtaining and maintaining the “Economic Stability” of Ashland and working with all interested parties to do so.

Jim Falkenstein
Ashland City Council Candidate