Amid political division, charter amendments fail

Elected officials in Ashland were not surprised that two amendments to the city's charter were denied, and by large margins.

"This is about what I expected," said Mayor John Morrison. "A lot of people were of the mind that if it's not broke, don't fix it."

Ashland residents voted against an amendment that would have made a city manager, rather than the mayor and city council, responsible for hiring and firing senior staff and department heads. Unofficially 62 percent of Ashland voters rejected the proposed change to just 38 percent in favor. Ashlanders also voted against revisions to the charter that would have streamlined the document, but also removed protections for Lithia Park, by 77 percent to 23 percent.

Morrison broke a 3-3 tie among Ashland City Councilors to put the amendments on the May ballot. He said the split on the council may have played into the measure's failure.

"There was a lot made of the division on the council," he said. "That may have been partially responsible for its failure."

Morrison also said housekeeping, which was routinely cited as the reason to amend the charter, is a "not a compelling case" to amend the document people say is akin to being the city's constitution.

City Councilor Eric Navickas agreed that council politics may have doomed the charter amendments.

"The vote shows that the most important thing is for the council to work together for something we can all support," he said, "rather than a tight majority forcing their agenda forward."

Councilor Russ Silbiger said he wasn't surprised by the results, either.

"The whole process got bogged down," he said. "Voters very clearly didn't feel the need to change things."

He added that he is "disappointed" that three years worth of work on the charter "sort of fell apart."

Silbiger said neither change would have had a drastic effect on the everyday workings of the city. But Silbiger wanted the city manager provision to pass.

"To me it's a more responsible, professional way to run a city our size," he said.

Councilor Cate Hartzell said the vote shows, "the need for a more objective presentation of what the impacts would have been."

She added, "I'm disappointed the council didn't finish the work required before asking voters to vote on it. I wish the debate would have been more civil."

Councilor Kate Jackson said she wishes there was a more "unified campaign effort" for the changes because "voters were not prepared to evaluate the new charter."

She added, "I think voters did what comes naturally to them when they are not familiar with something. When you don't know and don't understand, you vote no."

Councilors Jackson, Silbiger and David Chapman voted to put the language on the May ballot, while councilors Navickas, Hartzell and Alice Hardesty voting against putting the proposed charter to the voters. This morning, Hartzell and Navickas said the council should revisit changes to the charter. While Silbiger, Jackson and Morrison said it was time to move on.

Chapman and Hardesty could not be reached for comment this morning.

Staff writer can be reached at 482-3456 x. 226 or .

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