Mayor appoints Appicello as city attorney

Orville Hector | Daily Tidings was recommended for appointment to City Attorney by Mayor John Morrison.

Mayor John Morrison told the Tidings this morning, "I am appointing as city attorney. It is contingent upon council approval, and hopefully we can get their approval at tonight's meeting."

Morrison said there were two other candidates still in the running.

"But I think after a review of the candidates," he said, "Richard clearly rose to the top of the pool. I've been pleased with his progress, his legal advice to the council and his ability to shoulder a very high workload. Plus, the people in this community know him."

Appicello, who has been serving as interim city attorney since Mike Franell left this spring, was hired last fall as the assistant city attorney. Prior to coming to Ashland he was the city attorney for Saint Helens, Oregon

After Franell resigned, Appicello was largely responsible for doing the work of two. In a November interview Appicello said, "My moving to Ashland was an attempt to get a life. So it's been less than fulfilling because Mike Franell left and I've been in this situation."

Appicello did not apply for the city attorney position during the first search but decided to toss his hat in the ring after the first search ended without hiring a city attorney.

"I've been doing the job anyway for seven months now," he said. "And I enjoy working with the personnel in this department."

Franell had told the Mail Tribune in October that he left the job he had held for three years because, "It's not the easiest council to work for. In many ways, it's very divided and there's a great deal of friction among the various interests. The friction in the council definitely created more problems that I had to solve."

The city conducted the first search through its human resources department. The initial effort was to be a public affair with an interview panel of residents. But when one of the candidates refused to be interviewed via a television screening, the City Council scrubbed the effort and decided to hire Bobbi Peckham of Peckham and McKenney in Calif. to handle the search.

Peckham was conducting two searches for Ashland: the city attorney and the public works director' position vacated by Paula Brown who held the post for 10 years.

Hiring process

City Admininstrator Martha Bennett said Peckham's contract is for $32,000 for professional services, or $16,000 per recruitment, and not to exceed $14,000 for direct expenses such as travel, advertisements, brochures and other publications.

"So far, we have paid slightly over $25,000 of this contract, and most of that is for the city attorney," she said. "But there is some public works director expenses mixed in."

Ralph Temple, a former American Civil Liberties Union lawyer now living in Ashland, sent a letter to city council members and media outlets expressing his concern about the lack of public input in the selection process.

"The way things ended up in this case, it's the mayor's decision," said councilman Russ Silbiger. "The mayor picks candidates and the council confirms it. I'm very happy with Richard being selected. He's had six months to show us what he can do. He's extremely qualified and I think we're getting a top-notch person."

Thirteen candidates applied for the city attorney position.

"We had one person pull out before Bobbi Peckham made her recommendations," said Bennett. "Bobbi recommended we interview five candidates, and two of these folks pulled out after she made the recommendation. They each had their own reasons. One candidate was concerned that he wouldn't be able to sell his house and would have to carry his own mortgage. One candidate said she doesn't like to be in the newspaper talking about controversial issues and realized after reading some articles online that this wasn't the position for her."

Ashland has had more than a dozen top city leaders resign since 2000.

Bennett said she's hearing several reasons for the exodus.

A difficult economy makes it hard for people to sell their homes and move. Ashland's higher home prices further contributes to the problem, according to Bennett. Contentious comments posted on line have discouraged some applicants.

"First, the economy is really soft right now, and the downturn in the economy effects people's willingness to leave good jobs. Most public officials can't carry two mortgages, so fewer people look to change jobs when there is a danger that they won't be able to sell their houses.

"Second, the job market is tough for local government professionals. There are many factors that contribute to whether our community is competitive or not. Our greatest recruiting strength is the quality of life of our community, but if the people we're hiring can't afford to live here, then they can't have that quality of life," she said.

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