Ashland council expected to pick new councilor Tuesday

When the Ashland City Council meets for its regular meeting on Tuesday, it’s likely to be something other than regular as activists for affordable housing and gender equity have vowed to pack the chambers.

The council has a lot to consider. They will be voting for their next councilor after a vacancy for seat six was created when Pam Marsh left to serve as a state representative. It’s been, as Mayor John Stromberg stated, an “awkward process.” That’s in part due to the interest in the vacancy. Fourteen people applied, two dropped out but 12 still remained. Councilors struggled with how to properly interview all candidates and Councilor Greg Lemhouse stated at a recent study session of the council that most councilors already know who they want so trying to make time for interviews would be pointless.

Councilors Dennis Slattery, Mike Morris, Stefani Seffinger and Rich Rosenthal had originally hoped to interview all candidates, but by the end of the study session agreed to narrow their selection down to a top five.

At the Tuesday meeting, councilors will vote from the names on that top five and select a new councilor. It’s a pivotal seat, often a tie breaker and one many, such as Regina Ayars from the American Association of University Women, have seen as an opportunity to balance the city’s administrative processes with a woman’s voice.

The council lost two women in the past election with Marsh going to Salem and Carol Voisin leaving to run for mayor. Her bid was unsuccessful.

The top five candidates are: Traci Darrow, executive director of the Food Bank; Shaun Moran, former Chase bank executive; Tonya Graham, executive director of environmental research group Geos; Gina DuQuenne, an organizer of Southern Oregon Pride; and Louise Shawkat, who is an architect of the 10-by-20 plan, which calls for 10 percent of Ashland’s energy to be local and sustainable for the year 2020.

Seven who applied for consideration did not make the cut. Many were not contacted or interviewed, according to several of the applicants who preferred not to be named for fear that speaking out might disqualify them for future possibilities. “When I heard they already had a short list of people they knew, my stomach fell,” one told The Tidings. “I was naive. I should have known it was for people invited but I thought it would be a more open process.”

Councilors Seffinger, Rosenthal and Morris mused that it needed to be more inclusive but also acknowledged time constraints. The seat had to be filled within 60 days of its vacancy and the City Charter does not allow for a special election, as Rosenthal had at one point considered.

In the end they agreed to a short list system, so long as it was a fully transparent process. The written ballots for finalists were made public by Christensen after the vote at the study session.

Tuesday’s final vote will also be done in public.

In addition to the thorny issue of picking a new councilor, the City Council will also face a full room of advocates for a greater level of city responsibility around affordable housing. Southern Oregon Affordable Housing, led by Rich Rohde of the Ashland Housing Commission, plans to speak to the council about four major initiatives, including creation of a tiny house community, funding for the Affordable Housing Trust Fund, seven-day-per-week emergency shelters and regulations to curtail no-fault evictions when landlords wish to raise rents.

The group has been preparing and rehearsing a presentation for more than a month and plans to bring a wide audience to the meeting.

The housing issue is not on the agenda and therefore council will not be taking action.

Other agenda items include an update on the 10x20 plan which council voted to adopt prior to the Nov. 4 election.

The Ashland City Council conducts its regular business meeting at 1175 East Main St. at 7 p.m. on Tuesday night. Council meetings are broadcast live on Channel 9, or on Charter Cable Channel 180, and streams live on rvtv.sou.edu.

— Email Ashland freelance writer Julie Akins at julieanneakins@gmail.com and follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/@julieakins.

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