We simply disagree ... with each other

Probably much like the city itself, when it comes to the charter revision seeking to adopt a city manager form of government, the Tidings editorial board is hopelessly split.

At issue is whether Ashland has outgrown its city administrator model, which allows for the city council to have direct supervision of not only the administrator but the department heads as well. This has figured prominently in recent years as the council became intricately involved in replacing former planning director John McLaughlin and Police Chief Mike Bianca. In both cases, both men with long ties to the community lost their jobs as part of a political polarization rampant through the community.

We don't know for sure if the outcomes would have been different, but we do know a politically fueled process would have less fire in a city manager form of government.

This is the fault line in our split. Those in favor of the current government structure tout the role of the voter, through the city council, as a benefit in an active town such as Ashland. Those who prefer the change to a city manager see such instances as unfair to the professional staff hired to work for the city. Well paid professional staff are recruited from across the country to work for the city and likely deserve greater stability than the shifting loyalties of our local politics.

One side argues that the current system allows the most hands-on control to the residents of the city, with direct accountability that manifests itself at the ballot box. The other side agrees, but says that control leads to micro-management that hinders the effectiveness of the entire organization.

Both sides are right as this clearly comes down to a matter of preference. The council and many city commissions are buried in meetings and obligations, which suggests the need for prioritizing and delegating. Both would seem easier in a city manager form of government, where the council would set the course for the city and expect the city manager they hire to have the skills and leadership to implement it, not to mention the council should hire the right people to succeed. But an active constituency like Ashland's is always fearful of losing control of their city. By maintaining indirect control of all department heads through the elected city council, this control is more assured.

The city's charter review committee spent many months seeking input and studying this change before recommending it. But the committee's work has not gone unchallenged on most issues.

In the end the decision comes down to preference. Both forms of city government are proven models. Both can be effective or ineffective. No magic bullet exists. This is not to say the decision is unimportant, as our own inability to agree suggests. We each held strongly enough to our convictions to find no compromise we could offer with one editorial voice. The vote will decide it, guaranteeing some cheers and some boos depending on the outcome.

Share This Story