Election season is over, thank goodness, and the business of governance is kicking into high gear at all levels. Elected officials everywhere are now asking the question, "Now what?"
The "Now what?" facing Ashland's city council is an ambitious list.
Filling the council seat vacated by newly elected state representative Pam Marsh is a high-priority item that must be completed by the end of February. I encourage everyone interested in being appointed to City Council Position No. 6 through Dec. 2018 to submit an application on the city website in the coming days.
Some have stridently suggested that a woman must replace a woman when a council vacancy occurs. However, a truly objective selection process must focus on the experience and qualifications of all applicants, regardless of gender.
In the near term, the mayor and council will also hire a finance director and embark on a search for a permanent city administrator. And I wouldn't be surprised if multiple long-serving city employees announce their retirements this year, creating new and hopefully positive dynamics in City Hall and in the community.
City staff are feverishly preparing for a a new budget cycle, which begins July 1. The citizen budget committee and the council will be challenged to sift through multiple competing priorities with a finite number of revenue streams and a variety of inflationary pressures.
I expect council to take a deep dive into how municipal government can influence development of housing attainable to all income levels. We need to reassess the effectiveness and ease of use of the city's community development strategy and practices.
Most notably and possibly most importantly, the City Council will consider a groundbreaking and aggressive Climate and Energy Action Plan that, if implemented, will inevitably alter the lens through which short- and long-term decisions are made in Ashland. Watch for this discussion in March.
Other major items on the short-range radar are downtown parking and circulation planning proposals, and how to address the dangerous seismic condition of City Hall, which may not seem like a paramount civic priority unless, of course, you, your loved ones, friends and neighbors are in City Hall when the "big one" hits. Policy makers would be smart to present voters with a facility funding levy to address this and other facility needs.
Many people are troubled with the outcome of the presidential election. The specter of the Trump administration has the feel of an invasion by an occupying force. However, at the local level, the Ashland City Council will be a highly productive, thoughtful, respectful and responsive group. And I'm honored to be a part of it — thank you!
And yes, rest assured the City Council will continue to grapple with homelessness issues, but we really need Jackson County to step up to the plate.
Over the past four years, the county has not taken a lead role in responding to and addressing the burgeoning homelessness crisis. The absence of county leadership and concrete action on the topic places an undue amount of pressure on municipalities, leaving its largest cities, Medford and Ashland, to fend for themselves.
Homelessness and mental health services go hand in hand, and while its new Medford facility is impressive, I'm disappointed the county has yet to deliver on its longtime intention to open an Ashland location for mental health services. Meanwhile, the county's enormous "rainy day fund" has been expertly beefed up to unprecedented levels.
From the homelessness issue to the horrible condition of the county-maintained section of Clay Street to the dust-up involving Sheriff Falls, Jackson County has a perception problem on this end of the valley. However, the current county commissioners are good people who have the skills to change this perception in tangible, productive ways. Let's hope they do.
— Rich Rosenthal is starting his second term as a member of the Ashland City Council.