Council Corner: The view from inside the eye of the storm

There’s a lot of swirl out there right now, in case you haven’t noticed. National politics is beyond what we might call “interesting," and here in Ashland we are grappling with weighty issues, trying to find traction for challenging and complex issues — all with an overlay of impatience. As someone elected to lead in this environment, I would like to share with you a few thoughts from the “eye of the storm."

I think good leadership is not about finding fault, it is about finding solutions. A favorite saying of mine “fall in love with the problem, not the solution." Everywhere I turn I see need for improvement, but tell me where that doesn’t apply? Improvement is a value, not a criticism. The desire for continuous improvement is an ongoing critique of what we’ve done and what can be done better.

Bette Midler says “You never look back, because if you are looking back you can’t look forward." Now, I am a student of history so I’m not sure I completely agree with Ms. Midler, but there is a point in what she has to say. Too often we get caught up in old ways of doing things and old animosities that prevent us from taking advantage of the present and the future.

The future is a tricky place, filled with all kinds of potholes and challenges. Every budget cycle I have been involved with in the past decade I have come to the point where I ask the question — “can Ashland afford Ashland?” We like our “stuff," but there are times we don’t want to pay for our “stuff." The answer for many is to stop paying for “stuff," just don’t touch “my stuff."

That isn’t going to work folks. We need to find ways forward that make sense within the context of our resources as a community. So the question is how do we determine our priorities in an environment of always scarce resources?

So how do we make all this happen in the right way for Ashland? The first thing I say is that you cannot make positive solutions out of negative thought. Positive solutions require a team effort, an understanding of roles and responsibilities and the honoring of those roles and responsibilities. Each player on the team has a purpose, we need to not only accept that purpose in full, but we need to enhance and embrace it.

The biggest challenge I see right now lies within this base issue. Because of what I think is a lack of understanding and appreciation for the various roles within our process, good people are in conflict with each other. Mutual respect is the beginning. Effective communication in the next vital ingredient. Information sharing for decision is a must. This includes everyone, volunteers, elected members and staff — and extends to the community at large. Transparency isn’t an option, it is a necessity, a vital element in good decision making.

The past and future are very important. That leads me to my conclusion: We need to put aside all the acrimony and focus on the people’s important business that lies in front of us. We need to treat each other with the respect due our positions and desire to contribute to our community. We will not agree, should not agree, on all things, but we had best agree we are a better community when we value each other and respect each other accordingly. No one person has all the answers. I deeply value the collective wisdom that is the cornerstone of democracy. We have great staff, people who make their living here and give to us their best professional efforts.

I am a big fan of the people who step forward to be appointed to this difficult budgetary process and give of their valuable time and experience. I value them and appreciate them. I intend to help utilize them much better in the future. I am blessed and grateful to have been elected to serve with six other individuals who give a huge amount of time and energy in so many different ways to their community. How can we view all of this in anything but the most positive of ways?

— Dennis Slattery is a member of the Ashland City Council.

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