The State of the City

Good Evening. It is my job and my pleasure again to report to the citizens of Ashland on the state of our City. It has been a privilege for me to serve as Mayor for yet another year.

— Before I begin, I want to thank my colleagues on the City Council for their hard work and dedication to the City of Ashland. As many of you know, this has been a challenging year to be a member of the Ashland City Council. We have had our difficult moments, and we have had to deal with those difficulties. As we move into the New Year, I want the Council and community to know that I believe we are a stronger Council because we have taken responsibility for our own weaknesses as a working group. And, while we may disagree on some issues, we are united in our dedication to the city we serve.

— Many of you know that when I ran for Mayor three years ago, I clearly stated that I planned to serve only one term. It was my position that completion of a term as Mayor would extend my overall service to the community, as first a volunteer commissioner, as a councilor, and as Mayor, to more than a decade and that’s certainly enough for any one person to give to his community. I have not changed my position. This then, is my last State of the City address, so I want to talk about, if I may use the word, the legacy that this Mayor and Council are creating for Ashland.

— I’ll begin by speaking about the two City accomplishments from 2007 that will have lasting benefits within the community and that I'm particularly proud of. The first is the library. One year ago when we learned the county was planning to close the library, I said that an Ashland without a public library was unimaginable and unacceptable. The City Council agreed and so did the community. After considerable study of our options, we placed a tax measure on the ballot that would allow Ashland to restore library service. I am proud that in September 2007, the citizens of Ashland overwhelmingly passed the two-year library local option levy. Ashland was willing to pay what was required, knowing that the library is at the center of a community committed to a knowledgeable and active citizenry, to public involvement, and to a vibrant culture climate. Thank you City Council, and thank you Ashland.

— But our work to preserve our library is not done. We now have a citizen task force working to bring us recommendations on how Ashland can ensure an excellent and reliable library system well into the future.I look forward in the coming year to working with these citizens, with Jackson County, and with our other government partners in the Rogue Valley, to achieve a lasting resolution of our library crisis.

— The second major accomplishment in 2007 was the long-anticipated transition to community-oriented policing within our police department. Chief Terry Holderness took the reins of the department in April

— 2007 bringing with him a recognized expertise in community policing. During his short tenure in Ashland the department has made great strides. Ashland citizens have already noticed the difference. The department successfully tackled the serious problem of drug sales in our downtown area. We will soon have a permanent presence on the plaza with a police substation providing higher visibility, quicker response and better service to all. Our officers have received nationally recognized training in problem solving, and our department is putting on a “leadership academy” for Police Officers that many of the other departments in the Rogue Valley will participate in. This Council and community have much to be proud of in what Chief Holderness and the Police Department staff accomplished in 2007. The move to community policing will continue in 2008, with the launch of the “Area Commander” program. Under this program, our police department will work directly with the neighborhoods of Ashland, and citizens at the neighborhood level will have a key role in identifying and addressing the public safety issues of greatest importance to them.

— These are just two of the many things the City worked on in 2007. We also adopted a Public Arts Master Plan, we adopted stronger ethics provisions, we worked on issues related to Mount Ashland, and we handled transitions in senior staff. It was with great pleasure that I was able to appoint, with the concurrence of the Council, two key department heads by hiring from within our current staff. Bill Molnar became Community Development Director, and Richard Appicello was appointed City Attorney. As we move into 2008, this Council will work to strengthen our legacy as leaders working for a better Ashland. Last July, we set ambitious goals for 2008, which I believe have four key themes. Those themes are: (1) Economic diversification; (2) Transportation; (3) Sustainability; and (4) Organizational Health.

— Before I talk about these themes, I want to repeat that I believe the City’s first order of business is to build a new vision of the future of Ashland.Many of the things we treasure about the Ashland we have now are the fulfillment of the vision of past leaders.We owe much to their foresight, yet, a lot has changed since those leaders worked for our community. We’ve grown, we've become more diverse, and, as a community, we've gotten older. Our needs have changed with the times. And the need for a refreshed vision is clear.

— When the Council set goals last July, we put the need for a vibrant new vision for Ashland near the top of our work plan. I believe we must come together as a community and chart a collective course for Ashland. A course grounded both in reality, that is, the internal and external data and trends that will shape us, and in our dreams, our values and expectations. From that vision, we will develop specific strategies and actions to achieve our desired future. That vision, those strategies, and actions, must be formulated and shared by the many, not by the few. We will start this work in 2008, and it will take the efforts and input of the people and organizations of Ashland to make it possible.

— Building a new shared vision and action plan is our most pressing project. But the City will begin to address several other key projects, related to the economy, transportation, sustainability, or organization health in 2008.

— First, let's turn to Economic Diversity. Ashland, in the past, has taken many vital steps to guarantee its economic future. From supporting a fledgling Oregon Shakespeare festival to taking a risk and installing a high speed fiber optic network, the City of Ashland has historically planned to expand business, which in turn, supports our families.

— This City Council believes it’s time to again take a significant strategic step forward to ensure a diverse, resilient economy well into Ashland’s future.

— We are committed to defining proactive strategies that find and foster sustainable new businesses, capitalize and expand upon businesses and talent already here, support creative enterprises, and provide living wage jobs. We are also committed to an economy that doesn’t rely on a single sector whether tourism, technology, or natural resources because we must reduce vulnerability to economic downturns.

— But we need, as a community, to better define, and then attract, the kinds of businesses we want to see grow in our community. We must then help these businesses with the jobs they bring and the families they support -- succeed. Ashland is already home to many businesses committed to family-wage jobs and environmental sustainability, and of course nurturing our existing businesses is key to any strategy. Last, we will continue to address the costs of living here, including the cost of housing. The City needs the help of citizens and the business community alike in defining the economy we want and in creating strategies to achieve that future. We ask for your help, both in designing and implementing our efforts.

— We have two specific projects underway that will help our economy. With a grant from the State of Oregon, we are developing a plan for redevelopment of the Croman Mill property that will take place in this coming year. The 65-acre property is vital for development of industries that fit with our community’s culture and take advantage of our talented workforce. There's also the 20 acre “railroad property” in the center of town.

— There's a high likelihood that it will be cleaned up and redeveloped sometime soon. This critical piece of property is literally at the core of our town, and we’ll need everyone’s help to define a vision for this key site.

— The Second major theme is Transportation Ashland faces several critical issues related to transportation. We are committed as a community to ensuring that walking, biking, and riding the bus are real alternatives to driving a car. Ashland depends on Rogue Valley Transportation District for public transit, and we all know that RVTD has its troubles. I call on the City Council, the citizens of Ashland, and our regional partners to aid RVTD in its mission to provide transit service to the homes and businesses of Ashland and the region. We need to work with RVTD, SOU, Medford, the business community, and the other residents of this valley to secure a reliable, stable transit service that provides a real choice that individuals can adopt as an alternative to the car.

— Ashland serves as the regional leader in recognizing the need for an expanded, diversified transit network and we must strengthen that leadership.

— Here at home, Ashland needs to focus on completing our bicycle and pedestrian network. Although this is a great city for walking and cycling, we have key missing links. We need to finish our safe routes to school, including sidewalks on Laurel Street, and we need to finish the central Ashland bikeway. This will take creativity, persistence, and frankly, funding.

— Finally on this issue, the City can’t neglect its streets. The Transportation Financing Task Force identified a two-million dollar per year gap in funding for our transportation system. We have to find a funding solution. We are updating our transportation system plan to make sure we know the projects that we’ll need to finish for the future and in what priority. As the cost of gasoline reliance continues to rise, we’ll find more efficient ways to use our streets than we have in the past. Ashland must prepare for that as well.

— The third theme is Sustainability. I said last year that sustainability means meeting the needs of the present generation without compromising future generations. The citizens of Ashland have time and again demonstrated their commitment to environmental sustainability. We will continue our work in conserving and reusing water. We’ll continue to work to reduce petroleum consumption, by and within the city. We hope to finish a new solar energy project in the coming year which is now under construction. This Council also set a goal to increase our conservation efforts. Ashland is already a leader in Oregon in promoting electric and water conservation. We’re going to look for ways to improve these programs. In many communities, consumption of electricity is growing at a faster rate than the population. This must not happen in Ashland. Conservation of our existing energy and water resources and production of alternative power is all part of keeping our community sustainable.

— The fourth theme I'd like to talk about is organizational health. As a community we depend on the City of Ashland to provide essential public services, from delivery of electricity, transportation, water and sewer, to public safety, to parks, to open space, etc.

— This Council has set several goals that focus on how our municipal government can ensure continued excellence and efficiency in providing public services.We are evaluating our existing facilities and city-owned lands. We ask ourselves, is this facility in the right location? Does it work as it's intended to? Is it efficient? We will evaluate city land and determine if it is needed and if not, what should be done with it.We may discover that we can share equipment and space with other jurisdictions and entities. We want to plan for our facilities so we are not faced with a crisis or with wasted resources.

— As mayor, I'm proud of our services and I'm particularly proud of our staff. But maintaining high quality services require hiring and retaining the highest quality employees. This Council has a goal of sustaining and renewing our work force. We need to make sure we’re paying a fair wage that makes it possible for people to choose public service. We must mentor our younger employees to step into leadership roles as our long term employees retire. We need to create on-the-job training opportunities and apprenticeships which allow for the transition of duties and advancement.

— Last but not least, Council set a goal of ensuring long-range financial stability. We know we may face potentially difficult choices. We may need to reduce some services. We will need to discuss the best use of existing taxes. We will have to review our current city fee structure including; the food and beverage tax which expires soon and sewer rates. We will need the full support and participation of the citizens as we tackle these challenges. There are no easy choices.

— No doubt there will be many other issues that will surface in the coming months and we will take those on.But I believe this Council will best be remembered not for its difficulties, but for working effectively to strengthen and reaffirm Ashland’s position as a unique and leading community in our region, state and nation. I believe our commitment to livability, to diversity, to economic health, to car-free mobility, to sustainability, and to the highest quality local government will be our legacy. This is my vision.

— In closing, let me say I look forward to 2008. I look forward to the future beyond that. I look forward to working with the Council, with City staff, and with the citizens of Ashland in the coming year.

— Thank you.

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