City of Ashland to consider making recorder position appointive, not elective

The Ashland city council soon will explore the possibility of making the City Recorder an appointive, not elective position, breaking up many duties among other departments and reducing the pay. The elective recorder is in the city charter, so the change would have to be approved by voters. At a council study session Monday, May 4, city Administrator Dave Kanner said the primary election of May 2016 would be a good time to put the measure to voters, rather than calling a special election with added costs.  The present elected recorder, Barbara Christensen, who is currently serving her sixth term and has indicated she plans to retire and not run again, has said she leans toward supporting the change if the recorder answers to the mayor and council, but she said in a Monday email to them after the meeting that she would not be support changing the position to a classified appointive position if it was supervised by the city administrator.  Christensen’s four-year term is up in 2018. She has served in the post 21 years. At the Monday session, members lavishly lauded her performance. If voters approve the change, it would not be effective till her term expired. The post currently pays $83,712.  Councilwoman Pam Marsh said the job has become too complex and important to allow just anyone to run for it. “It’s become highly technical and requires specific skills,” said Marsh. "It’s a little scary because the person with the skills may not be the person who likes to run for office. The recorder also doesn't deal with policy or other issues that require responsiveness to voters. It’s an extremely important job and it seems to make more sense for it to be appointive.” Kanner, in a council communication, said the pay is about $5,000 higher than recorders with comparable duties in comparable cities. He said the League of Oregon Cities only knew of two other towns, both under 2,000 population, with elective recorders. He also said the post got higher cost-of-living-adjustments than department heads in recent years and he doesn’t consider the recorder to be at department head level. Chistensen said the issue is not pay, but “keeping the integrity of the office and keeping it whole ... The office is an unbiased, elected position in City Hall that has the ability to work directly with citizens in the community. If the position is stripped (of its many tasks), you don’t have that.” In the Monday email to the Mayor and Council, Christensen said, “The City Administrator indicated to you that if this position were to become ‘classified’ it would remain at the same level of compensation. But ... all the duties which the position now performs ... investments, treasury, banking ... liquor licenses, taxi licenses, etc. ... would be moved to the finance department.  So ... I guess if I were to move all the things I now do (other than attending council meetings, records management, elections) to finance ... that would be okay since I'm not really getting paid to do these things? There are many ‘holes’ in this rationalization and I would encourage discussion.” Kanner, in an interview, said the change would involve moving the recorder’s “routine financial work” — investments, maintenance of the daily bank accounts, issuing of checks — to the Finance Department. He said it would save the city money in the long term. There should be no special election for the change, he added, as that would be more costly than at a regular election. City Councilman Greg Lemhouse, at the council meeting, said the council has to address the questions about what duties should the recorder do, what is the right pay and should it be appointive. The city charter in 1974 set the pay and said any increases given to department heads should be applied to the recorder also. The council, as they propose a change in the charter, could propose a change in this formula as well.  Several city councilors at the meeting — Stefani Seffinger, Rich Rosenthal and Carol Voison — expressed reservations about a shift to an appointed recorder, noting that many questions need to be answered. In a Wednesday email to the mayor and council, Christensen said Kanner’s assesment of the Recorder’s pay was “biased.” She disputed Kanner’s comparisons of the pay with other similar cities and the pay increases for the recorder over the last 13 years. She wrote, “The percentage of pay increases (cited by Kanner) suggests that the City Recorder’s position was receiving pay raises when no one else was.”John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

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