Instead of 'They lost, so this is their problem'

How do communities come back together after a fight? Some don't even try; political foes lick their wounds and back off into their respective corners, waiting for a chance to pounce again. We could try something else in the wake of this week's vote to renew the meals tax. Let's put some energy into healing this wound, even if its depth is uncertain.

This has felt more like a heated disagreement than a war. Most people I talked to saw both pros and cons instead of an epic clash of Good versus Evil; they fell only slightly on one side of the fence or the other, and could have lived with either outcome. Those who did feel a searing passion yea or nay were small in numbers but big in persistence and, as usual, showed up in newsprint and on TV more often than the on-the-one-hand-on-the-other-hand folks. The result, as in much of civic life these days — is that we get a sense that we're more polarized than we really are.

Still, though, there's been division and hard feelings. And while it's easy even for "yes" voters to admit that the tax isn't perfect, most of us won't feel the imperfection's burden. The restaurant community, owners, workers and suppliers, will — that's a fact whether or not you believe opponents' supposedly objective surveys that blamed the meals tax for $22 million in lost business every year. Restaurant people are neighbors and job providers and school supporters, and any healing will have to recognize the disproportionate load they carry for open space and wastewater treatment. Otherwise we're wordlessly saying, "Well, they lost, so this is their problem," probably not the best starting place for community healing.

So what to do? I'm not sure, but here are a few dos and don'ts for starters. Some can only be lessons for next time and others might have value right now. See what you think, and see what you'd add.

DON'T personalize what doesn't need to be personal. When you think about how many times we've watched moral righteousness tear up our public life, we are remarkably slow to learn this one. While this episode wasn't nearly as vicious as others we've seen, some material making the rounds pegged people on the other side not as wrong on the issue, but wrong human beings — greedy, vindictive, selfish, dishonest. After reading all campaign about what miserable lowlife they are, those people aren't going to be listening very well to whatever you have to say afterwards.

DON'T convince yourself that God's on your side, another way to pour salt in the wound. On election night one leading tax supporter said he was "thrilled that Ashland citizens put community before themselves." This happens to be a notably mellow guy, but if I'm a meals tax opponent (I'm not), I'm hearing him say that I put myself before community. Oh, I get it, I'd be thinking, people who voted to dump this whole thing on struggling restaurants so that they could dodge a sewer-fee increase are community-minded heroes, but because I'm willing to pay my own way instead of sticking it to small businesses, I'm a selfish jerk? Argue that one however you want, but at least recognize there are decent opposing arguments.

DO find a way to press city leaders to reduce costs whenever they can, rather than easing up because meals tax dollars are locked in for another 20 years. Should we sell the undeveloped land that tax opponents pointed to across the freeway, reduce the wastewater debt and phase out the meals tax early? That's worth careful discussion no matter how you voted.

DO eat at Ashland restaurants when you can eat out, and if you actually have Medford-area friends who shun Ashland to avoid the tax, invite them in the friendliest possible way to get a grip. Bribe them the first time. Offer to treat them to dessert on the Plaza.

DO tip well. While always wholesome advice, this needs underlining because of reports that some diners reduce tips to pay the meals tax. Come on, folks. The people who work hard serving us deserve our appreciation in the way that counts. If you voted for the meals tax, tip 20 percent plus a buck next time you go out, and see if it can't get to be a habit.

"Who wins and loses, that doesn't really matter," said Don Anway, Ashland Springs Hotel manager and tax opponent after the vote. "This is about moving forward in the future in our community." For that to be more than happy chatter, we have work to do.

Jeff Golden is the author of "Forest Blood," "As If We Were Grownups" and the novel "Unafraid," with excerpts available at

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