21st Century City Management I

The recent flap over individual city councilors directly lobbying department heads instead of limiting interactions to council deliberations, is a typical problem with Ashland's "Strong Mayor" structure. The structure invites political interference with city management. Over the 80 years that Ashland has had a city superintendent or city administrator, all important episodes of mismanagement were committed by elected rather than by appointed officials.

The ease with which "Citizens For Responsible Growth" achieved the forced resignation of Community Development head John McLaughlin, based on false charges and the absence of protection by the city administrator, largely resulted from the "Strong Mayor" structure. In an era when candidates for office are often more motivated by activism on a particular issue than by a sense of civic duty, it's very important to move to a council/manager governing structure.

With a budget now approaching $100 million, with 250 employees, Ashland's form of governance has not kept up with the city's evolution, which former Finance Director Bob Nelson describes as, with the possible exception of Portland, the most complex in Oregon. Of the 45 Oregon cities with populations over 10,000, Ashland is only one of six still operating under the "Strong Mayor" model (Ashland, Beaverton, Canby, St. Helens, Troutdale, and Woodburn) &

84% have evolved to the council/manager form of city governance.

Part 2 —

The Ashland City Administrator's job description requires expertise in nine management areas, the equivalent of a four-year university education in public or business administration, ten years administrative/management experience, including previous experience as a chief administrative officer, and pays over $125,000 a year. The current charter, however, gives control of the municipal corporation to a part-time elected official, far from actual operations, and with no requirement for training or experience in management. That is hardly responsible utilization of human and financial resources.

After Ashland's long-term city administrator retired, the first candidate hired lasted three years. The next one lasted two years, the retired city administrator worked for one year on an interim basis, the next candidate lasted for three years, and Ashland is now on its fifth administrator in nine years. The newly hired community development director, who resigned after a few months, complained about the political interference he experienced under the "Strong Mayor" structure. Brian Almquist was able to develop "informal authority" as city administrator, under the "Strong Mayor" structure, only because the first four mayors he worked with had all managed large and important organizations, and expected that the municipal corporation would be similarly managed &

without political interference.

Turmoil in the city administrator and community development positions, national publicity about a dysfunctional city council and negative opinions about Ashland among Oregon's city recorders led me to ask former Ashland planning director John Fregonese if he'd heard anything in the Portland area about Ashland's reputation as a place to work. He replied that two people, a city planner and a city manager, had commented about what a bad place Ashland was to work &

that it's very political and you can't perform your duties in a professional manner. The "Strong Mayor" model is an important hurdle in civil service recruitment.

The "Strong Mayor" structure provides too tempting an opportunity to make department head appointments based on ideological factors, rather than on merit. Over recent years there have been mayoral appointments that have disrupted operations of the Public Works Department, the Police Department and the Fire Department. Ashland needs to get rid of these two lines of control of the municipal corporation, and move into 21st Century Management.

Residents who might help Ashland move from the "Strong Mayor" to the council/manager structure of city governance should contact the writer, hcloer@jeffnet.org

SOU emeritus professor , a 56-year resident of Ashland, was a member of the 2004-2007 Charter Review Committee. He was president of the board of the Ashland Library (then a city department) from 1964 to 1970. Cloer was interim chair in 1970 of the "Committee of 50" which established policy for the multimillion dollar Downtown Revitalization Project. In the early 80s he served on the Citizens Planning Advisory Committee, updating the city's Comprehensive Plan. He also served on Ashland's Historic Commission and on the Planning Commission.

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