Wake-up call for the council

As hard as it may be to believe after nearly 20,000 words on the topic, our series entitled "State of the City" is just the beginning. The series chronicles some patterns and problems within the city council and its working relationship to city staff. But for those truly concerned about affecting positive change, the work has just begun.

That work truly begins with the council itself.

For the past couple of years, the city council has lost touch with residents of Ashland outside of the special interests group they represent.

The goal of unity that started the tenure of Mayor John Morrison has failed. Attempts to build unity and understanding among diverse groups have mostly floundered.

Even the council has publicly stated the need for change, entering into a five-month training and counseling process.

The council must now step forward and set a course for change.

That course could be a difficult one that doesn't fully resolve itself until the next election. But significant steps could be taken now.

Some would vilify these councilors, but first let's remember they serve countless hours with the best intentions of the city in mind. With the same intent, we suggest the following:

First, the council must reign itself in immediately by passing a prohibition of contact with department heads outside of public meetings. Let the communication run through the mayor, to the city administrator and back, following a clear chain of command.

Second, council must start to speak, and act, with one voice. Let that voice be determined by vote. Any councilor seeking to act only as a "private citizen" should resign from the council to do so. The role of councilor is not one that can be set aside and picked back up according to whatever best serves the purpose of the individual.

Third, the year-long tedious effort to form council rules needs a deadline for completion. Simply put, the abstract arguments about specific words must be set aside and by vote, determined, such that the rules can be enacted.

Fourth, let the councilors become the watchdogs of themselves. If certain segments of the council are meeting privately, broadcast the news. Put everything under the scrutiny of the public eye. Especially in hard times, the process is important for people to see.

Finally, the council must toss out its philosophical abstract "goals" from a few months ago and replace it with three or four specific action items for City Administrator Martha Bennett to accomplish with her staff, however they best determine that approach. When specific votes of the council are required to move forward, have them discussed and voted on in a timely manner.

Council must take seriously its role of setting the course and direction of this city and then respect the paid professionals employed by the city to put those plans into action. Any councilor not willing to work within these guidelines should be asked to resign. If they refuse, some sort of public censure should be considered so the full and public record is set before the voters prior to the next election.

The time for change has come. Nobody benefits by the continued efforts to sweep it under the rug away from public scrutiny.

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