Ashland's ruby slippers?

I watched the 13 task force and staff members seated at the table, again in the same seating pattern as the week(s) before, and the attentive audience of 18 concerned citizens as round five of signage, parking and pedestrian easements lurched forward. I immediately pictured Titian's "Sisyphus" and hoped that the whole effort would not resemble the endless trial of man condemned to repeat forever the same meaningless task of pushing a rock up a mountain, only to see it roll down again. Albert Camus concluded that "The struggle itself"&

166;is enough to fill a man's heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy."

A quick glance around the room revealed that, except at the table, happy campers were not in abundant supply. Our two mayoral candidates at the table verbally sparred in a refined and very detailed and stylized manner, as if they were speaking before the French royal court, dressed in the fashion of the aristocracy. Elsewhere in the room these oratory powers were not enjoyed nearly so much as merchants and residents had other pressing matters to balance while they sat and listened to the Olympic-quality thrusts and parries of delicate and intricate reasoning that tippy-toed throughout the room.

During the first task force meeting Don Laws saw a simple solution for granting clemency to Alfredo, the bear and the lion. He proposed a way to "grandfather" the trio and move on to other, less emotional matters. He was informed that such a concept could not be implemented, but never given the reason. He raised the issue during the final meeting and still was not given an answer as to why the task force could not adopt his suggestion and call it a tightly focused done deal.

As the meeting came to an end it became clear, finally, that not everyone understood the charge given to the task force. It was ironic that this basic understanding was being raised at the very end of the meeting, as the mayor had left early and wasn't available for comment.

One task force member was awash with self-congratulations, while another felt that next to nothing had been accomplished. The balance of the members seemed caught unawares.

What happened next was somewhat amazing. While the fate of the bear had still not been decided, staff clung to the concept that a merchant could rent some sidewalk space, but that the minimum was 150 square feet at market rates. This was considered inviolate and it was tentatively suggested that the city charge $100 a month, which meant that the cost of putting the bear back on the bench would consist of a healthy chunk of cash, though it would actually take up little space.

Then an inspired suggestion came from a member of the audience: Lose the 150-square-foot minimum and charge only for what is used"&

166;what a concept! Add a price tag on the bear and it would conform with our August ordinance without being a financial hardship on the merchant in question. Neither the task force, staff or the administration had thought of this solution, as all held the 150 figure as etched in stone. Yeah, bear!

Nothing as clear came forth regarding the lion, though Alfredo was provided with a convoluted backdoor to compliance, unless his head had to be cut off. All was generally wrapped up and tossed to staff and the city attorney, there to be massaged, cleaned up and sent back to the task force by e-mail, though with a very strange proviso: Task force members were instructed not to talk with each other about whatever ends up crafted; rather they were instructed by the city attorney to send it back to staff directly. No funny business, no discussion. In the end the task force members were allowed to send their comments to the chair, who would review the whole deal and, apparently, decide to send it on up the ladder or convene a sub-committee that would comply with Oregon's open meeting laws.

Looks like we're off to see the wizard, oh my! was last seen walking down an alley, hoping to run into the bear, Alfredo and the lion. He wants their take on the task force.

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