Mixed reviews on Art Bullock

At a city council meeting earlier this year, Mayor John Morrison clearly had enough with Ashland resident Art Bullock. So much so that he wouldn't allow him to address the council for a second time that evening.

Normally, depriving a resident of their right to address their elected representatives would raise instant scorn and political backlash. Ashland prides itself on its penchant for listening to the public. But Bullock is not the average Ashlander.

Some regard him as the most toxic element in the city's ever-devolving political discussion. They say he is not above lying to achieve his objectives, and uses the law &

and lawsuits &

to intimidate elected and appointed officials.

"Why would anybody want to participate in city government these days when you have wacky, scary Art [Bullock] and company skewering you," wrote Pam Marsh, planning commissioner and former charter commission member, in an e-mail that was posted on the city's listserv in April.

Several others have been privately critical of him but didn't want to voice those concerns publicly.

But others regard him as Ashland's most effective civic watchdog, who exposes &

through tireless research and well-presented arguments before public bodies &

the corruption inherent and injected into the city's political dynamic.

"He's a very good citizen, and he's not alone" said fellow local government activist Philip Lang. "He has brought up a large number of issues to people's attention and the public interest has been protected. It's only people with a lot of money, who want more, who don't like Art Bullock. They are trying to demonize people rather than dealing with issues."

Though Marsh and Lang don't contradict each other, their differing opinions of Bullock underscore his affect on local politics: some say he has damaged Ashland's political discourse, and others feel he has rescued it. In either case, Ashlanders of all political persuassions have noted the irony in his constant calls for transparency in government, while he remains a mystery.

Political life

Bullock figured prominently in the May election. He called attention to the fact that the proposed city charter amendments would have left Lithia Park less protected from being sold. The charter amendments were rejected, and the debate about the merits of proposed changes were largely debated in terms of whether or not Bullock was correct about his claim.

Conversely, he has also led smear campaigns targeting city officials. Before the November election, he distributed a self-published newsletter, called "We The People," that claimed City Councilor David Chapman wanted to terminate bus service to Mountain Meadows, a retirement community on North Mountain Avenue. Contrary to Bullock's assertion, Chapman actually advocated for more bus service to Mountain Meadows. "Almost nothing in it was true," Chapman said about the newsletter. "Or it was exaggerated, or misleading. That seems to be his modus operendi. He finds a grain of truth, and then extends it."

Bullock campaigned for Chapman's opponent in the November election, Randy Dolinger, causing Chapman to chalk up the incident to "campaign fever."

Others refused to let the issue with the newsletter go away. Ashland City Recorder Barbara Christensen, another city official who has been targeted by Bullock, reported him to the state Department of Elections, who are still investigating the matter. Her contention was that Bullock's newsletter was campaign material that had not been disclosed as a political donation. In the newsletter, Bullock advocated for Christensen's competition in the November election, Yohanna Storm.

Christensen declined to comment for this story, but at the time the newsletter was distributed she told the Tidings, "I've never seen anything this nasty."

Bullock first became involved in Ashland politics when he campaigned for former city councilor Jack Hardesty in 2004.

He circulated a flier during that election that urged voters to support Hardesty over Don Laws because Hardesty was opposed to a street improvement project on Nevada Street, where Bullock purportedly lives.

In that flier, Bullock contended that Laws voted against the big box ordinance, which the long-time councilor voted for.

Laws called it a "last minute attack."

"Even though it's put in the form of advocacy, it's actually an attack and much of it is untrue," he told the Tidings at the time.

Bullock's next foray into local politics involved the Nevada Street improvement project again. He filed four law suits against the city concerning the project, with 47 allegations of wrong-doing.

In May of 2006, Judge Mark Schiveley agreed with three of Bullock's contentions: that the city cited no reasoning for the boundaries of the project, failed to pay its share of storm drain improvements and proceeded without properly addressing Public Works Director Paula Brown's conflict of interest. Brown oversaw the project and also owns property on that street that received a new fence as a result of the improvement project.

Though Schiveley agreed with Bullock's major issue &

that the city didn't properly dispose of Brown's conflict of interest &

the judge disagreed with Bullock's assertion that the project should be remanded. Bullock has since appealed the decisions to the state appeals court.

After the Nevada Street lawsuit, Bullock began to focus his political energies into other planning projects. He speaks against many &

if not most &

development proposals, often bringing up obscure legal points as reasons for denial or remand. He once asked that then-commission chair John Fields be removed from a hearing for not disclosing a site visit to the Helman Baths project.

"Maybe he feels responsible to hold everything up to the light of day," Fields said, who was not removed from the Helman Baths hearing for his undisclosed site visit. "But the problem is if someone is so doggedly demanding, anything can be construed as a conflict. Citizens have a right to come forward but the planning process is collapsing under its own weight. The demands on the system have become so grandiose that nothing gets done."

Fields added, "If he just did it once a month it would be one thing, but when it becomes a full-time job he loses his credibilty. He's fairly articulate and intelligent. I wish he'd help us reform the process."

Other planning commissioners declined to talk about Bullock, for fear that they, too, could find themselves in his cross hairs.

Private life

Fields brought up a point that is often uttered about Bullock.

"He's totally into transparency," Fields said, "but you drive by his house and the windows are all covered up."

This sentiment is shared by many in Ashland familar with Bullock's poltical tactics. Though Bullock advocates for open government, his personal life is a mystery to even his supporters. He does not have a driver's license, and is not registered to vote in Oregon, under his stated name. One Ashlander who has been accused of improper actions by Bullock hired a private detective to find out more about him.

"One thing he truly cherishes, and tries to protect, is his privacy," said Pam Vavra, chair of the Ashland Pacific Green Party. "I have reservations about answering questions about him because I respect that [but] I'm as curious as you are."

The only person who seems to know anything about Bullock's life prior to his arrival in Ashland is the person who sold him his house on Glendower Street. She asked that her name be withheld from this story, because she fears Bullock may sue her over her comments.

She knows him as R.J. Bullock. After he moved to Ashland, she said, "He never used his given name. It was very strange; I once got a call for Art Stewart. I got two calls along those lines. For some reason he didn't want anyone to know where he was."

She moved to Ashland in 1982 with her now-deceased husband, who was a college professor of Bullock's at Michigan State.

"They had a very affectionate connection," she said. "They both loved to camp, and shared a love of music. They enjoyed intelectual discussions. He was one of the most intelligent men he ever taught."

She said Bullock would come visit her and her husband from Houston, where he ran a consulting firm and once worked for the University of Houston. He asked them if he could buy their house if and when they decided to sell, she said.

"He said he wanted to retire here," the woman said, who now lives in an assisted living facility near Portland.

Bullock bought the house from her in the December of 2003 for $315,000, Stewart said, even though Jackson County records list the sale as being for $195,000. He paid in two cashier's checks, one for $3,500 and the second was for the difference, she said, noting, "What was reported to the county was incorrect."

The deal quickly turned sour. He wanted discounts for doing the paper work in lieu of a real estate agent, for her to leave her husband's books and to leave the utilities bills in her name.

She said Bullock threatened to sue her if she didn't acquiesce to these demands. She hired former Ashland attorney Judy Uherbelau to counter-sue Bullock for elderly abuse, she and Uherbelau said. At that point, Bullock backed off his demands and they lost contact with each other.

"I don't understand the change in him from when we first met him," she said about Bullock.

Bullock declined to comment for this story. He has not commented to the Daily Tidings in more than a year. At one time he had a working relationship with a Tidings reporter. But when that reporter asked him about the status of the Nevada Street improvement project lawsuit, after the Judge Schiveley had already sided with the city, he abruptly ended a conversation and Bullock has not spoken to the Tidings since.

Staff writer can be reached at 482-3456 ext. 226 or . To post a comment on this story, go to .

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