Pillory on the Plaza

Thus far I have attended both meetings of the signage task force and have been digging around for real issues like a dog unearthing his favorite bone. Somehow the task force and many of us observing, have wandered off the real topic to which so many merchants are reacting: "It's the economy, stupid."

Approximately two-thirds of the task force is made up of non-merchants, some of which are or have been on city commissions or council, some who do work for the city and the balance being city employees. Many merchants harbor deep fears that their businesses might fail, as it seems every day brings more bills to pay and more rules and regulations to follow.

At the other end of the spectrum are those swaddled in the city's security blanket. They get paid on time, every time. They have benefits that are the envy of nearly every merchant and most of the town and as long as they don't buck the system and follow orders, their compensation package is not in jeopardy. As a large percentage of these employees have never taken the risk of losing it all by running their own business, they are hard pressed to understand why many merchants look with a jaundiced eye at the newly formed enforcement crackdown.

One group desperately trying to stay afloat, another group, immune from economic realities, deeply immersed in compliance and fines. "I feel your pain," is not part of the city's position.

The highlights of our last meeting were many, but I will comment only upon a few.

I have lived in Ashland for 38 years, so I was blindsided when staff suggested that those who do not pay their parking tickets predictably and in full should have their cars "booted," as an example to all that when the city speaks, all should tremble. If we are going to immobilize a car to shame the owner, how far are we away from (this was actually a facetious question asked at the meeting) from using a pillory for the same purpose? Our federal government is pretty good at torture and having little concern for the average citizen. Why can't Ashland have some fun with a rack, some whips and a dose of public humiliation?

Just kidding, folks. Who needs whips when tasers will do just fine?

Another event took place that troubled me. At our first meeting the city attorney stated that there was no way we could "grandfather" a non-conforming sign. When asked what law was behind something we have done from time to time, we were told to trust his opinion without question. Don Laws, a long-time presence on the council asked to see what codes in our charter or in state or federal statutes took "grandfathering" off the table. None were presented.

During our last meeting Don again asked for these legal references and was told by the city attorney, in a surly and disrespectful tone, that he was under no obligation to provide Don with any information, as Don was not his "client." Then I struggled to understand why the city attorney had a seat at the table at all if he refused to be of use to the mayor's task force?

Lastly, only the sitting members of the task force were provided with a summary of the last meeting and an agenda, prepared by staff, for this last meeting. I was berated and told "Lance, I am deliberately ignoring your raised hand," for not knowing that the public would eventually be allowed to speak after all of staff's options had been introduced and explained, as I lacked a five page agenda, as did every member of the public in attendance.

No agendas, a non-responsive city attorney, talk of car-booting parking ticket scofflaws, enforcement officers unleashed and the Task Force, shielded from legal advise has only a single meeting left to unravel this Gordian knot.

Lance@journalist.com was last seen slipping furtively around town, running down rumors while keeping a sharp eye out for jack-booted car booters.

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