Mayor delivers State of the City address

Mayor John Stromberg said in his annual State of the City address that the city of Ashland is working to give citizens faith in the democratic process.

"I want to show that democracy can work," he said during a Tuesday night Ashland City Council meeting.

Stromberg noted that a peculiarity of democracy is that it puts amateurs in charge of government — amateurs who were elected by the people and wouldn't necessarily choose to work together on their own.

He said cities can be criticized by citizens for leaving people out, even when cities follow public input processes. Stromberg said the city has taken steps to include the public, as with the North Main Street road diet that reduced car lanes and added bike lanes.

The city commissioned a survey, had traffic studies done on impacts and invited people to comment on the issue via its Open City Hall online forum before the council decided late last year to keep the pilot road configuration in place.

Stromberg said residents stepped up to the task, providing thoughtful comments.

The city has involved residents in various issues by including them on citizen committees, he said.

"Citizens have come up with key ideas," he said.

Stromberg said he hopes the city's new Housing and Human Services Committee can undertake a survey of people in need in Ashland and identify resources available in the Rogue Valley.

A large new committee is tasked with studying downtown issues, including parking and traffic circulation, he said.

Stromberg said different parties have come together to tackle difficult problems.

He pointed to the partnership of the city, the Lomakatsi Restoration Project, The Nature Conservancy and the U.S. Forest Service on Ashland Watershed thinning as an example.

The Ashland Chamber of Commerce is aiding the thinning work by creating a map that can be used to help raise funds, and local officials are in communication with Congressional representatives to let them know that thinning work needs additional federal funding, Stromberg said.

He noted that city officials, including Ashland City Councilor Dennis Slattery, City Administrator Dave Kanner and City Attorney David Lohman, worked to help the cash-strapped Ashland Community Hospital successfully partner with the larger Asante medical organization and stay open.

The Ashland Parks and Recreation Commission and council are cooperating to develop long term funding strategies for the parks system, Stromberg said.

Councilors have agreed to allow city buildings to be used as overnight shelter for homeless people two nights per week, augmenting the work of churches that host the homeless on two other nights.

The council also approved a two-year, $100,000 grant for the organizations ACCESS and Options for Homeless Residents of Ashland to launch a daytime help center for homeless people and others in need, Stromberg said.

He said Ashland faces outside threats, such as genetically modified crops contaminating local organic food and seed production.

At the same time, Ashland is having a positive influence on the outside world.

Notably, a new play commissioned by the Oregon Shakespeare Festival about Lyndon B. Johnson's presidency is headed to Broadway, and the Ashland Police Department was asked to offer advice to the United States military about how to better handle reports of rape, Stromberg said.

Stromberg said, overall, 2013 was a good year.

"I'm proud of the community and the staff and it's a pleasure to be working with all of you," he said to councilors and city staff.

Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-479-8199 or Follow her on Twitter at @VickieAldous.

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