Blame the elected officials

Recently, City Administrator Martha Bennett and staff for the City of Ashland released the findings of a study that was completed on the current compensation rate of city employees. The results of that study have sparked a great deal of debate throughout the entire valley, which I believe is healthy, especially so for Ashland residents.

Many question the logic of possible raises while we are in the midst of a recession and dealing with high unemployment and further budget cuts. That is a valid concern that must be raised and, even more importantly, be addressed. The discussion of how our tax dollars are spent is a crucial one to have in these economic times and one that will become even more important as we enter the budget season. I believe that all voices need to be heard and listened to on this issue.

However, our city administrator and the city staff have also come under fire for the results of the study. I believe this criticism is undeserved. In 2007, the Ashland City Council made it a goal for the city to find ways of retaining city staff, due to the high amount of turnover the city had faced and subsequent high costs associated with recruiting and hiring new workers. The council requested that Mrs. Bennett and staff commission a study that looked at how staff compensation measured up against other cities in the state, the results of which were presented to council last week.

We may not like the results of the study, but we shouldn't shoot the messenger. I, too, question the timing of such a raise, but I am willing to look at a proposal with an open mind, given that any proposal balances our need for retention of workers with our current economic limitations.

Ultimately, this issue will require council to make decisions that may prove to be difficult and even unpopular to some. We will deserve any and all the harsh criticism and second guessing that comes of those decisions. That is the burden of leadership that every elected official must accept.

Our city staff, however, does not deserve to be a target of such criticism. They have already faced enormous pressure and even personal attacks from members of our community and a few elected officials in the past that few city workers in other cities have ever had to face. Throughout this, however, they have continued to work with amazing dedication and commitment to our community. For that, our city administrator, department heads and staff will continue to have my strong support and gratitude for their service.

If there is blame that needs to be passed out for policy decisions made by city government, blame me. Blame the elected officials. We asked for it when we ran for office. We should not blame those who are asked to stand in the gap between the elected and the electorate and carry out those decisions. They deserve our respect and admiration in Ashland, not our scorn.

Greg Lemhouse is a member of the Ashland City Council.

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