21st Century City Management II

Most of Art Bullock's argument in last year's Voters Guide against Ashland moving from its "Strong Mayor" form to the council/manager model of city governance was that doing so reduced accountability. That is completely false. Changing governance forms would have absolutely no effect on accountability. Cathy Shaw's Voters Guide statement also (falsely) implied that the "Strong Mayor" form has greater accountability than does the council/manager model of city governance.

Accountability of governance requires constant scrutiny, formal evaluation, and the power to easily terminate tenure. None of those factors would be changed by a move to the council/manager model. Cathy Shaw's claim in the Voters Guide that the voter's recall power provided greater accountability for the "Strong Mayor" model is false, as is shown below in a 1970 Ashland governance fiasco.

The fatal weakness of the "Strong Mayor" model is that it gives elected officials control of the municipal corporation without any requirement of knowledge. The 1970 city council was unusually inexperienced: two councilors were brand new, two had one year of experience, one had three years' experience, and one had six years' experience as a councilor.

Only the mayor and the councilor with six years of experience were fully supportive of the multimillion dollar Downtown Revitalization Project that was underway. One councilor, a history professor who projected greater knowledge and assurance than he had, managed to convince the other inexperienced councilors that he had evidence of serious mismanagement by the City Administrator, and the council voted five to one to fire him. The mayor tried mightily, but unsuccessfully to avoid that.

The principal claim was that had the City Administrator sent the council a copy of a job application the previous year, electric rates needn't have been raised, because the city would have been buying power from Bonneville Power Administration instead of Pacific Power and Light. The Ashland League of Women Voters then released a study that noted that the PPL contract was in force for two more years, that the nearest BPA line was in Malin, and BPA policy limited public utility profit to $80,000 a year, while Ashland's public utility contributed about $300,000a year to Ashland's general fund. But the council not only fired the city administrator, but also the community development director.

Part — — There was a recall election, but despite the fact that five councilors had held illegal private meetings, had discharged two very effective administrators on clearly false charges, had put at risk a $896,000 Federal Economic Development grant, a $160,000 Housing and Urban Development grant, a $8,600 Jackson County grant, and made it difficult to complete the Downtown Revitalization Plan, only one of the five councilors was recalled. Accountability of elected officials is clearly tenuous, while (even unwarranted) accountability of appointed officials can be instantaneous.

In 1948 a group calling themselves "Southern Oregon Voters Committee" got a member elected mayor of Ashland. At his inauguration, the new mayor fired the city superintendent, the city attorney, and the police chief &

without any explanation of deficiencies. For the next 16 months the new mayor paid more attention to the theories and agendas of his supporting group than to learning the realities of city operations. That mayor was recalled, but when activists on particular issues get together and reinforce each others' untested theories (as did "Citizens for Responsible Growth"), acquiring knowledge usually takes longer. As Alan DeBoer commented, when asked about some changes in his views, "the view from inside is very different from the view from outside." The "Strong Mayor" model provides political power over management before any knowledge is acquired &

that needs changing.

After a year and a half of study the unanimous number-one recommendation of the Charter Review Committee was to eliminate the possibility of part time, inexperienced, uninformed elected officials, far from the actual operations of the large, expensive, and complex municipal corporation, taking control of its management. The Charter Review Committee recommended that Ashland change from the "Strong Mayor" to the council/manager model of city governance. That model has been recommended since 1915 by the nonpartisan citizen's organization, The National Civic League, and is the most popular model of city governance in the U. S. It's time for Ashland to move to 21st-century city management, avoiding the mismanagement seen the past, and contemporary mismanagement described in an earlier commentary

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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