Second shift on Ashland's school board

When Keith Massie became the newest school board member earlier this month, he also became the only member on the board with a full-time job.

A few members work part time, but Massie, who works as a computer mapping manager in Medford, logs 40 to 50 hours behind a desk every week.

"I don't think a full-time job should preclude anyone from serving on a board," Massie said. "I did a lot of consideration. I talked to previous school board members about the number of meetings and the level of commitment," he said, before he ultimately decided to run for office.

Massie's schedule may require some tinkering with meeting schedules, but the other members said they are willing to make the adjustments.

"We'll probably have to have more evening meetings, which is fine," board member Amy Patton said. "We want to have evening meetings for the important topics so the citizens can come. We try to have our less interesting meetings during the day."

Board members said Massie entered at an unusually busy time because of the recent bond sale, planning for construction and reworking all employee contracts, among other things. They said they expect the schedule to calm down soon.

"I think anyone ought to be able to work," Patton said. "But with the schedule we had the last couple of years, it would have been difficult."

Patton said she has spent as many as 40 hours in one week on school board-related work; now, she requires six to eight hours each week.

"When I first got here, everyone had regular jobs," Superintendent Juli Di Chiro said, citing doctors and lawyers on former boards. "It's just unusual that the people on the board right now don't have that."

Nationwide study

Mike Zickar, an industrial and organizational psychologist and professor at Bowling Green State University in Ohio, said people involved in local government are disproportionately retired or run their own business because they have more flexibility to set their own hours. He has been studying city councils across the country, including Ashland's, for two years.

"People who are working full time have more of a time crunch, which can be a negative but can also be a positive," he said. "How well they juggle their jobs depends on how supportive their primary employer is and how supportive their family and spouse are. If your spouse isn't supportive, that's just as disastrous as if your employer isn't supportive."

Zickar said it is important to have members with different perspectives in any governing body. When he served as a city councilor, for example, he said his job as a professor gave him a different understanding of town-gown issues from the rest of the council.

Demands of the job

Ashland Planning Commission member Pam Marsh works a full-time job in Medford, and she said while it has been difficult, it keeps her in touch with the average person.

"I think having full-time jobs is actually a reality for many of us, and a reminder of what goes on in the rest of the world," she said. "I know that my schedule sort of imposes more, and I really appreciate it when they do try to make it work."

Ashland City Councilor Russ Silbiger said he has scaled back his part-time work managing investments since assuming his seat on the council, and he no longer takes in outside clients.

When Councilor Alice Hardesty took her husband's seat after his death two years ago, she also cut down her outside work, subcontracting part of a federal contract and getting an extension on the remainder of the contract.

"The learning curve is very steep," she said. "There's an awful lot you have to learn in a very short time. It was too much for me."

Both Silbiger and Hardesty mentioned Cate Hartzell as the only city councilor with a full-time job. Hardesty said she often receives e-mails from Hartzell well past midnight, but she has managed to work full time, serve on the council and raise her children.

During Massie's first official week on the board, he said he attended a Monday night meeting and missed two during the workday.

"I recognize that I will not be able to attend some meetings, but I can use my time wisely," he said.

If issues require further discussions at meetings, Massie said his limited time makes him more inclined to ask what's important, to reprioritize and to drop minor agenda issues, rather than scheduling additional meetings.

"We can't cover it all," he said. "I think that's a strength that I bring."

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