Jim Olney

After watching library funding dry up and multiple levies fail, , 55, decided he wanted to help solve underlying county government problems that surfaced with the library.

Olney, the executive director of the Jackson County Library Foundation, said the library was symbolic of county commissioners' indecision and lack of vision.

"I'm seeing the county government just fail miserably at doing things that I consider common sense &

accountability, transparency in government, responding to the needs of the people," he said. "I don't see that happening."

To increase transparency and public involvement, he would like to see meetings held at night and in cities other than Medford more often, with the minutes posted online afterward for all to see, he said. He also wants to expand the county budget committee beyond its current six members, including the three commissioners.

"We have to monitor our budgets better," he said, noting he didn't see why the county couldn't keep the libraries open with a $273 million budget.

"We have to get more citizens involved, and non-partisan too," he said.

Olney's career has included government, nonprofit and education work. After earning a master's degree in public administration, he worked for the Oregon Legislative Assembly performing audits of state agencies, then as executive director of Associated Builders and Contractors, a statewide agency. He has taught university classes since 1994, moving online in 2000. Through his nonprofit and education work, Olney says he's learned how to gather input from all sides of an issue, a strategy he would like to see the board of commissioners adopt.

In the discussions he's had so far, high property taxes top the list of voter concerns, he said. To enhance economic development and keep taxes down, he would like the county to take a more supportive stance on education, affordable housing and attracting business.

"We can keep attracting the tourists, and we can try to attract business, but if we don't have the personnel to work with them, we don't go anywhere," he said, adding that businesses require an educated workforce that can afford to live in the area.

He is a member of the Southern Oregon Regional Economic Development, Inc. marketing committee, which encourages Bay Area businesses to expand or relocate to Jackson County, and as a commissioner, he would join in that work, he said.

Olney, who sailed from Oregon to Key West on a solar-powered boat before moving to Ashland in 2004, said he also wants to see more emphasis on sustainability and environmental issues. He would propose requiring new residential and commercial developments to use some sort of alternative energy or justify why they aren't doing so, he said, and he wants to see more resolution of the controversy around Bureau of Land Management forests.

"If I'm there, I'm going to lead that discussion and get people to sit at the table and tell me why you can't agree on anything," he said. "We have to do some harvesting to generate some money for the wood industry. We want to keep those jobs, we want to keep as many of those factories here, but we don't want to compromise our forest land."

Although he said he would not take a uniquely Ashland approach to the commission, the city does offer an attitude that could be applied to the entire county in solving problems.

"Everybody is talking to people about issues that matter to them, and they're trying to come to some kind of consensus," he said. "It's the conversation we're not having countywide that we have in Ashland on a regular basis, and that's what we've got to have."

Staff writer can be reached at 482-3456 ext. 227 or .

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