Interview with mayoral candidate John Stromberg

Editor's Note: These are the results of a Tidings survey e-mailed to all candidates.

DT: How old are you?

JS: Sixty-eight and married to my wife, Jane, for 38 of them.

DT: How long have you been in Ashland?

JS: Eight years. Twenty-two in Oregon.

DT: What are your top three priorities?

JS: I have four that depend on each other: 1. Help OSF and local businesses deal with the economic downturn. 2. Make sustainability the key to Ashland's future — because becoming a sustainability destination leverages our visitor infrastructure and because we are a natural sustainable community. 3. Control city spending so we all can continue to live here and enjoy the benefits of number two. 4. Build a more cooperative relationship between the Council and staff by focusing the former on policy and the latter on implementation.

DT: What is the biggest issue facing Ashland in the next two years, and how do you intend to address it?

JS: We're caught between a serious national economic slump, the specter of climate change and increasing energy prices. However we have a great opportunity to become the place people visit instead of going on longer, more expensive trips — and the place people visit, and where businesses locate, to become part of the world-wide shift to sustainability. The trick is to support the Shakespeare-based economy while we're ramping up the complimentary sustainability economy.

As mayor I will immediately bring together business leaders to plan a campaign to make Ashland the place you go instead ... and to identify alternative ways of transporting people to Ashland besides by car. I believe cultivating our relationship with longtime repeat visitors is the key.

As for sustainability, I will champion the idea of Ashland as a demonstration sustainable city; create a supportive environment for sustainable businesses, programs and service providers; coordinate with organizations such as the University and Science Works to offer sustainability education and conferences. and develop a coordinated promotion plan for tourism and funding based on this concept.

DT: What kind of experience do you have, and how will it affect your approach to city government?

JS: I have a science background but worked as an organizational and management consultant for 27 years. Most of that time was in banking, telecommunications and public power. I facilitated organizational change, developed high potential managers, designed communications skills training and ran strategic planning and team building projects. I've spent years in organizations as large as 50,000 employees. I understand budgets and finances. I've helped small groups work together. All these experiences have direct application in leading City government and facilitating the Council's decision process.

DT: Would you try to be a strong leader, or do you see your role more as the facilitator of City Council meetings?

JS: As chairman of the Planning Commission, I have been a strong leader who achieved results through supporting the efforts of the other commissioners. The charter makes the mayor the executive officer of the municipal corporation. You can't step away from that responsibility. But the mayor and city administrator must work together smoothly in order for either to be successful. At the same time, the mayor has a unique relationship with the Council and is the key to its functioning as a proactive, policy-making group. These are two distinct parts of the job, not alternatives.

DT: What do you think the city government's role should be in relation to the business community?

JS: Phrased this way, the "business community" is set up as a special interest group. I look at it differently. One of city government's primary responsibilities is supporting and developing the city's economy. The well being of every citizen is dependent on the health of the local economy.

DT: Is the current pace of growth in Ashland desirable?

JS: I assume you mean population growth, which has been averaging a little over 1 percent for years. Given that the state requires us to always have land available for growth, I think we've been fortunate to proceed at such a pace, especially since this is such a desirable place to live. But we need to relate to carrying capacity as well. For how many people can we provide water, clean air, locally grown food, decent paying jobs, etc.? I want to start measuring these various dimensions. Perhaps the changes going on in the world now will give us time to develop an economy that doesn't depend on growth to remain strong.

DT: Should the city government continue to devote resources to affordable housing?

JS: Yes, but a complex "yes." First, we should continue to devote resources to housing for our low income citizens — but there will be competition for these resources. So we should be active in seeking out external sources of funding, which is why I support having a housing specialist on staff.

There are others in town who have problems with affordability: new school teachers, new faculty at SOU, new medical employees at ACH. The city should work with these organizations to find ways of using the lands they own to provide housing for their employees, since land is the component of housing that causes it to be unusually high in Ashland.

And there are those citizens on fixed income who find it more and more difficult to meet housing expenses because of the rising costs of government. Therefore we have to control city spending to keep their housing affordable.

Plus, Ashland's salaries have lagged far behind its housing costs. So we need to grow and attract companies in which the employees create a high value added and so can be compensated well.

And lastly, we need to encourage innovation in housing that reduces its costs. For example we should explore the potential of co-housing because of its more efficient use of many kinds of resources.

DT: How would you address the city government's growing financial problems?

JS: First you have to have a budget process that makes control possible.

Second, the Council must give the Citizens' Budget Committee a policy framework to guide its decisions on the budget.

Thirdly, the Council must prioritize the Capital Improvements Plan and transmit those priorities into the operating budget.

Fourth, capital projects must be evaluated on their "finance cost," rather than their "sticker price."

This gives you a basis for dealing with the trade-offs between spending increases and the burden they place on the public. The mayor can work with the Council to put this system in place and then use it.

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