The search for common ground

Civil discourse is on shaky ground right now, but efforts by an Ashland group could help bridge local communication gaps.

On the national scene, Sen. Hillary Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama are tearing into each other as they vie for the Democratic presidential nomination. Even more bruising battles are in store once the Democratic nominee squares off against the Republican candidate, Sen. John McCain.

Locally, the Ashland City Council earned widespread criticism in 2007 for spending $37,000 to buy communications training to deal with council bickering and divisions. Council relations have since improved, with a notable improvement in efficiency. Still, some members of the public continue to launch personal attacks against councilors, including in the comment sections of the Daily Tidings' Web site.

The fact that counseling of councilors was needed in the first place, coupled with ongoing arguments at the local and national levels, might cause anyone to yearn for a different way to talk about challenges facing Ashland and the country as a whole.

While a healthy community discussion is essential for a healthy democracy, an overabundance of acerbity can have a chilling effect on the free exchange of ideas and opinion. Opinionated individuals can easily cloak themselves in an anonymous mantle of community mandate, claiming they speak for the silent majority of Ashlanders. Maybe they do and maybe they don't.

The city's demographics are constantly shifting, but there's hope that some community values are somewhat constant. The search for those values is the job of our elected officials, who are often forced to rely on whoever they happen to come in contact with to help them gauge what matters to Ashlanders.

In an effort to bring the desires of the community into sharper focus, the Community Dialogue Committee, a subcommittee of the Ashland Coalition, will host a public forum Wednesday to define community values.

The Ashland Coalition consists of representatives from the public, the Ashland Chamber of Commerce, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Southern Oregon University, the Ashland School District, Ashland Community Hospital, Community Works and the faith community &

a good cross section of the city, but with the wisdom to realize that more input needs to be sought.

With the November elections around the corner, candidates will be able to consider what comes out of this public meeting and shape their platforms accordingly. If elected, new officials can make decisions with more confidence, which comes with the knowledge of what residents want.

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