City Councilor Rich Rosenthal wrote a Tidings Council Corner article on Aug. 22 titled “The worst thing about the recall.” The worst thing about the article is that he got everything wrong!
The group known as SOS (Support Our Seniors) ranged from 30 to over 200 people, who did not know each other but attended city meetings and eventually joined to gather signatures for the recall petitions. The public learned, without prior notice, that the Senior Center programs were to be shifted to the Grove, all staff laid off, and the center perhaps closed. At the Aug. 8 and 9, 2017 APRC meetings, the public unanimously asked commissioners to delay their action on any changes until the public could weigh in. Citizens’ pleas were ignored and changes were enacted.
The City Council, identified in the City Charter as the final decision makers,” refused to get involved. Ashlanders were told that there was “nothing to talk about.”
As a last resort, the petitions gauged whether there was public concern about APRC decisions being made without sufficient public involvement. More than 1,650 signatures were gathered for three commissioners. The high bar for a special election was met. Citizens spoke with their signatures so that there could be a vote. This is a remedy granted in law, that citizens have the right to recall elected officials who are in breach of the public trust.
Signature gatherers diligently explained the five reasons for the recall, which were meticulously researched from public record.Voters knew exactly what they were signing and why. It is demeaning to suggest otherwise.
Rosenthal’s statement that 69 percent of Ashland voters were against the recall is inaccurate and misleading. Only 38.3 percent of registered voters voted in the special election. This means that 61.7 percent of qualified voters did not vote. Two-thirds of those who cast votes voted against recall while one-third voted for recall. More people voted for recall than signed the petitions. Rosenthal insults those who voted to say that the recall “failed miserably.”
Even though the general election was eight months away, seniors reasonably felt it was unwise to wait. With a decimated program and loss of the extraordinary staff, delay in senior services could truly be a matter of life and death. The new Senior Center program has taken a year to develop and required an additional $100,000 to meet new staffing requirements. Remember, one of the key justifications commissioners gave for laying off of five staff and revamping the senior program was cost containment! Historically, the Senior Center had always come in well under its $175,000 budget. Now the budget has ballooned to $275,000.
Research revealed that APRC had many serious problems. It was running an annual $500,000 deficit. At the same time, commissioners were planning for a $3.5 million swimming pool with no revenue stream to pay for or maintain it. Yet, the only program APRC budget scrutiny was the Senior Center. Because of the precipitous action taken by the parks commissioners, the city now faces a wrongful termination lawsuit that could reach over $1 million. APRC’s budget mismanagement dwarfs any money spent to bring this to public awareness.
The purpose of this article is not to throw mud on those who disagree with the constitutional right of recall. It is to illuminate the so-called “darkest hour.” The tone and language of Rosenthal’s article exemplifies the historical and ongoing bullying and intimidation directed at those who have valid but differing opinions from Ashland elected officials. Citizens advocate for an open process, authentically representing the public, before decisions are made.
Finally, it should be noted that no commissioner or councilor is running unopposed in the upcoming November election. This hasn’t happened in Ashland in years.
Sandra Sawyer of Ashland wrote this on behalf of Support Our Seniors.