Mayor reverses: Ban nudity near schools

Mayor John Stromberg, who previously voted against banning nudity around schools, said he has changed his mind because a nude man has been walking near schools.

Stromberg cast a tie-breaking vote in September when he sided with City Councilors Eric Navickas, Carol Voisin and David Chapman against creating a law to ban public nudity within 1,000 feet of schools.

Councilors Greg Lemhouse, Russ Silbiger and Kate Jackson had wanted the school zone ban.

Dating back to at least Oct. 8, a man from Minnesota has been spotted at different times exposing his genitals near Ashland High School, Ashland Middle School and Walker Elementary School, according to a flurry of e-mails between city officials, school staff and police.

Stromberg stated in a Wednesday e-mail that he wants to put a proposal on the City Council's Nov. 3 meeting agenda that the council direct the city attorney to draft language prohibiting nudity within 200 feet of all public and private schools.

The council could choose to adopt the nudity prohibition around schools, or refer the issue to the voters, Stromberg said.

Ashland already has a ban on the display of genitals downtown and in parks.

When he cast the tie-breaking vote in September, Stromberg said he thought the issue would be better handled through a citizens' initiative process, in which residents get the issue on the ballot themselves if they can gather enough signatures.

He said the city had only had one case of a man being nude near a school, and that man had agreed to stay away from schools.

Earlier this summer, Tony Cooper, who was from California, upset some residents for his nude strolls through Ashland, especially when he appeared naked near Walker Elementary School as children were walking home.

"I'm changing my position because this latest case involves someone who says he came to Ashland from Minnesota in order to be naked near our schools," Stromberg stated in his Wednesday e-mail to city and school staff and the Daily Tidings. "I think we want to avoid becoming an attraction for exhibitionists using our school children."

He said his proposal for the 200-foot buffer zone around schools was an attempt to balance citizens' freedom with protections for children.

"Unfortunately, we appear to have drawn national attention on this particular issue of nudity near schools," Stromberg said.

Prior to the Nov. 3 council meeting, city staff members will create a map of schools and day care centers in Ashland with shaded areas showing proposed buffer zones, Ashland Management Analyst Ann Seltzer said in a phone interview.

The city has records of day care locations because they must have business licenses. Unlicensed day care centers operating out of private homes would not show up on the map, Seltzer said.

In response to questions from the Daily Tidings and the community e-mails, Ashland Police Chief Terry Holderness said in an e-mail that police have made contact with the new nude man a few times.

He appears to be the same man who was spotted near Southern Oregon University in August. Police are not releasing his name since he has not broken any law, but they can say that he is 51 years old and on vacation from Minnesota, Holderness said.

Police do not comment on a person's criminal history, but they have no reason to believe the man is on parole or probation, is a registered sex offender or has any other legal reason that prohibits him from being around children, Holderness said.

The man appeared to be intentionally walking around the perimeter of Ashland High School last week while students were present, and later the man put his clothes on and was seen in the school's parking lot, Holderness said.

The man told a police officer that he had come to Ashland from Minnesota because he knew he could walk around nude in Ashland, Holderness said.

At the request of school officials, police told the man that if he walked onto school grounds he would be subject to arrest for trespassing. He still has a legal right to be on public sidewalks around schools, Holderness said.

"During our last contact with this person, we made him aware of the community concern and he agreed to stop walking around the school nude and told us he was leaving to return home the following day," Holderness said.

Community members here have threatened the man, police said. One woman told an officer her husband would "kick his a—" if he saw the nude man around schools, Holderness said.

While being nude — except in parks and downtown — is not a crime, assault is a crime, he cautioned.

"I understand the concern raised by this incident, but we as a police department have to protect the legal rights of everyone involved and we can only enforce existing laws," Holderness said.

"If someone is not violating the law, we are very limited in what we can do, even if the community is concerned about the activity in question. In situations like this, the most we can legally and ethically do is determine whether or not a law is being broken and attempt to keep the peace," he went on.

According to e-mails circulating among school staff and then forwarded to city officials, the nude man was also seen last week outside the Beanery coffee shop, which is at the intersection of Walker Avenue and Ashland Street, uphill from Walker Elementary School and Ashland Middle School.

Children use crosswalks next to the Beanery to get to the schools.

The elementary school and middle school "kids were in very close proximity as they walked to school," Karen Hobbs, who works for the AMS Academic Support Center, said in an e-mail to all school staff members.

Hobbs said she and her 10-year-old daughter and 12-year-old son saw the nude man at 7:45 a.m. on Oct. 8.

She went on in the e-mail, "I understand the council looked at this recently and decided not to change the law. I feel this was a very poor decision and want to let the council know this."

City Administrator Martha Bennett has encouraged school officials, students and parents to call the police if they see something that is a threat.

For emergencies, call 9-1-1. For non-emergencies, call the Ashland Police Department business line at 488-2211, Holderness advised.

The state of Oregon doesn't ban nudity or have a crime of indecent exposure. Instead, people can be arrested for public indecency, but that requires that sexual arousal be involved. Masturbating in public or having intercourse would qualify as public indecency, Holderness said.

Some Oregon cities, including Eugene, Corvallis and Portland, have adopted their own laws banning public nudity, according to research compiled by Ashland City Attorney Richard Appicello.

He found that governments in Oregon have been sued both for banning public nudity, and for failing to control nudity on government land.

Staff writer Vickie Aldous can be reached at 479-8199 or

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