Would-be city councilors are willing to serve, but hesitant to run

Ashland saw a strong field of applicants for a recent City Council vacancy, raising the question of why the applicants were willing to apply to be appointed — but not mount political campaigns to seek the post.

Five of the seven applicants have never run for the council.

Several of the applicants said negativity in Ashland elections was one factor in their decision not to run for office, but the time commitment required to campaign and personal considerations weighed more heavily.

The council seat opened in October when David Chapman resigned after a history of occasionally losing his temper at public meetings.

Earlier this month, the remaining councilors unanimously selected Pam Marsh to fill the vacancy. Several councilors commented that the field of applicants was exceptionally strong, with a wealth of government, school and community experience.

Marsh served on the Ashland Planning Commission and has been involved in school, government and health issues.

A former restaurant and inn owner, Marsh became manager of the Ashland Emergency Food Bank in May.

Marsh said she had thought about running for office this year but decided against it because she still was familiarizing herself with her new job.

"It was not a time to divert time and energy from that. Putting together a campaign would have been an enormous undertaking," Marsh said.

Candidates launch their campaigns in the summer when they gather signatures from supporters and file election paperwork with the City Recorder's Office.

With half a year of experience at her new job now under her belt, Marsh said she felt ready to serve on the council when Chapman's seat opened up.

"I'm lucky to get a chance to be a councilor without having to campaign," she said. "There are benefits to campaigning, though. You get out and talk to people and learn more about the community than you knew when you started. I'll have to do the best I can to catch up because I wasn't out walking the sidewalks."

Applicant Lynn Thompson, a longtime Ashland Citizens Budget Committee member and retired attorney, said people have asked her in the past to run for office, but she had felt too busy because of her activities with the Ashland Rotary Club and the Rogue Valley Symphony board.

Thompson said it was easier to apply for a vacancy than to mount an election campaign.

"I do think running for office is a difficult thing in the current political climate we're in," she said. "It's unfortunate. You make yourself vulnerable. There is a different calculus in thinking, 'Am I prepared to run for office?' versus, 'Am I able to do my homework and serve on the council?' "

Applicant Tom Giordano, an architect and member of the Ashland Historic Commission, ran for the council eight years ago but lost in a close three-way race to Russ Silbiger.

Giordano said he actually enjoyed running for office and became friends with his opponents.

"I enjoyed the debates and discussions and activities," he said.

Giordano said he has toyed with the idea of running again.

Other applicants were community organizer Keith Haxton, who launched a bid in the November election to unseat Councilor Greg Lemhouse but lost; Colin Swales, former member of Ashland's planning and transportation commission; Eric Heesacker, former Transportation Commission member and current Planning Commission member; and Kevin Bernadt, whose track record includes working as the program director for New Mexico's Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing and as a contract officer representative for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Along with Marsh and Thompson, Swales, Heesacker and Bernadt have not run for the council.

Councilwoman Carol Voisin, who narrowly hung onto her seat in the November election after a bruising campaign, said she sees value in running for office.

"Going through the political process is a sort of vetting process," said Voisin, who was targeted by the Ashland Residents for a Great City Council political action committee. "Can you hang in there when there's unwarranted criticism and twisting of details?"

The PAC has attacked what it considered the most liberal members of the City Council over the past several election cycles. It endorsed candidates it said were nonideological and able to get along with others.

Voisin's opponent, Salvation Army Development Director Jackie Agee, said the field of applicants for the council vacancy was outstanding.

Agee didn't apply for the opening herself because her race with Voisin was so close that final results weren't known until after the application period for the vacant seat closed on Nov. 14.

"It was such a strong field," Agee said of the applicants. "When it comes to stepping up to run, it's hard. It's much harder than I expected. There's animosity and mean-spiritedness."

Agee said she learned more about her community and how to run for office, and was gratified by the support she got from people who voted for her.

Agee said campaigning and actually serving on the council are two different things.

"When I decided to run, I said I wanted to serve, but I didn't particularly want to campaign," she said.

Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.

Clarification: The headline on this story has been updated to reflect the story more accurately.

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