Seeing the signs of discontent

No city has a crystal ball through which it may gaze into its future. But every city has vision &

whether foresight or hindsight. Lately, for the City of Ashland, it has been the latter.

Consider the decision made by Mayor John Morrison to appoint a task force to look into issues brought forward by irate business owners. Forming a committee to investigate the enforcement of an ordinance prohibiting business owners and employees from parking downtown while at work was the right thing to do.

The committee is also tasked with making a recommendation to the City Council regarding revision of the sign ordinance, which has become a topic of controversy since the city initiated strict enforcement procedures. Again, appointing a task force to hold discussions, investigate the pros and cons of an issue and submit its findings is a sensible approach.

Unfortunately, the formation of the task force came in the wake of a storm of controversy. Such hindsight comes at a cost to the community. In this case of blurred vision at City Hall, local business owners have been impacted by fines for parking violations, and the forced removal of a variety of marketing visuals has caused economic hardships for some businesses.

Area residents have been impacted as well, as a cacophony of community voices have risen to express disapproval of the city's decision to force removal of street-side characters that have inadvertently become a part of the culture and character of Ashland.

Of course, the city is within its legal rights to strictly enforce its ordinances without regard for protest. But city leaders who ignore this ruckus from the residents for the sake of standing on legal technicalities could potentially find themselves writing their own political obituaries.

City ordinances are written for good cause ... at the time they are written. Forward-thinking leaders who possess the foresight to see change on the horizon do exactly what Morrison did: He assembled an ad hoc committee to deal with the problems and make recommendations.

Unfortunately, Morrison didn't see the problems percolating until they boiled over.

On July 9, the Tidings reported that city workers Dean Walker and Adam Hanks had sent out numerous notices nearly two years ago informing businesses in violation of the sign code that they needed to conform. The backlash was immediate and strong. Yet, Walker and Hanks were simply doing the job they were hired to do.

When city leaders were apprised of the situation, it was within their purview to discuss the matter with business owners, call a community gathering to listen to the complaints or create an ad hoc committee to recommend the best course of action. The city also had the option of covering its eyes and ears, stomping its feet and demanding strict adherence to its outdated ordinances. It chose to remain blind and deaf.

Ashland needs leaders who can hear the distant drumbeat of discontent and see the smoke on the horizon. We applaud the action taken by City Hall to address the problems downtown. We urge city leaders to continue to respond to community concerns, except using foresight rather than costly hindsight.

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