In a congenial but slightly stressful meet-and-greet Wednesday, the public — mostly insiders with city government — got to rub elbows with the five candidates to become Ashland’s next city administrator. One of the five will probably be named to the job Friday.
It was an unusual situation, where three of the candidates had worked for the city and two — Public Works Director Paula Brown and Interim City Administrator Adam Hanks — have long resumes here and are a known quantity to all. Kelly Madding, deputy City Administrator for Medford and an Ashland resident, has worked in planning here. New to the scene were Corvallis Finance Director Nancy Brewer and City Administrator Laura Allen of Berlin, Maryland.
Mayor John Stromberg, who will make the decision after long hours of panel interviews with City Council and job candidates, said everyone, outsider or not, will be treated as equals and the choice will be made solely on what’s best for Ashland.
“It’s a very complex puzzle we’re working on,” he told the crowd, adding that the process will go on a couple days. “We have five very highly qualified, experienced, top-level people. It’s not a competition; it’s a collaboration.”
City Councilman Mike Morris, in an interview at the stand-up reception, said, “I’m looking for someone with energy, creativity and innovation, who will keep things moving forward. The council doesn’t have the expertise to do a lot of things,” so it looks to the city administrator for much leadership. “We’re basically citizens at large who get elected.”
Mark Welch, city administrative services director, said in an interview that department heads are hoping for “a collaborative leader, a good listener who can work with all departments — a communicator who is transparent and open.”
City Councilor Jackie Bachman, in an interview, said, “I’m looking for leadership, someone with very clear vision of what Ashland needs in the big picture, with a focus on planning, working with seniors, young families, all groups and able to work with a lot on their plate.”
Candidate Brown, who was Public Works Director from 1997 to 2008 and got “recycled,” as she put it, back to the job last year, said the city needs “long-term stability” in the top job and “my goal is for the staff to give the council all the right information for them to make truly informed decisions,” especially in the pressing areas of affordable housing and homelessness.
Hanks, the only man seeking the job chosen as a finalist, has served as Ashland assistant to the city administrator, management analyst, economic development project manager, development services manager and building permit manager, code compliance manager and finance department clerk.
He says the job poses “multiple roles in the community and requires a wide variety of skills to help solve problems,” the most important now being housing in general (with affordable housing as a subset). The city’s electric utility picture is “transforming rapidly” and that will be a big challenge, he adds — and the city needs to diversify its economy beyond tourism.
Stromberg, sounding a unifying note, said “We have a strong mayor, council, city administrator form of government. This is a laboratory of democracy, that we do on a person-to-person basis. If we can’t do it in Ashland, I don’t know where it can be done, but we build relationships to do it.
“This is a very good collection of people. Find out what they’re about. We’re all working on a puzzle and we’re doing it together.”
John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.