Council Corner: Local action on issues is essential

The recent Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration has given me hope and determination concerning the importance of local action to address the issues we will be facing in 2017.

The last election produced surprising and, to many, disturbing political and social trends that will challenge some of our core values of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I believe this has created a more urgent need to understand and protect the roles of state, county and city government in the face of current national trends. It is evident there will be adjustments that occur in national priorities and policies that result in changes to the funding of programs as well as potential restrictions to city and state decision-making and local control.

The importance of safeguarding the environment, preserving health care coverage, developing alternative energy and addressing affordable housing and discrimination will become incumbent for both the state of Oregon and the city of Ashland. The expansion of the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument and the approval of Oregon’s request to continue innovating the Oregon Health Plan show that local action is vital and does make a difference.

Due to the importance of local involvement in affecting and understanding the connection between state legislation and its impact on cities, connecting with state representatives for grass-roots involvement in advocating for city needs and budget priorities will be particularly important in the next years.

Understanding issues facing the state that will have an impact on the city budget, such as the rising costs of the Public Employees Retirement System, property tax reform and clarification of recreational immunity language that could affect our park system are important examples.

This year will bring a number of changes to Ashland city government with a new city administrator and administrative services/finance director joining the staff. In addition, Dennis Slattery was elected to the City Council. In the next weeks we will also be appointing a new City Council member to fill the vacancy left by departing councilor Pam Marsh who will now be representing us in the state Legislature. The application process for applying for this position is listed on the city website with a closing date of Jan. 27 for submitting an application.

If you are considering applying for this position it will be important to understand the multiple roles that the City Council plays in representing the citizens of Ashland. The council must work together to establish city law, set policy, develop goals for the city and adopt a budget. In order to do this effectively it is important to see the big picture and understand the importance of having multiple perspectives. Many of the issues we face will require balancing the needs of different stakeholders and seeing how all the pieces fit. In making our city fire wise, for example, we also need to protect tree diversity, consider the needs of the pollinators for our environment and work on water conservation with drought-tolerant planting.

I believe we will have a vibrant, forward-thinking and hard-working city government that will work well as a team to tackle the issues facing Ashland. I value public input and transparency in government and I believe we will work toward addressing these areas to include more voices in knowing what are the priorities of our citizens.

This year the City Council has a number of important issues on its plate. These include the Ashland Climate and Energy Action Plan, an update of the housing element of the city comprehensive plan, continued support for the protection of Ashland’s watershed, addressing the issues of homelessness and the underemployed, affordable housing, downtown parking, City Hall replacement, addressing the needs of the elderly, transportation and supporting local business health and growth in our planning and permit processes to provide more living wage jobs. Certainly this is not an exhaustive list but I do feel exhausted thinking about it. And away we go.

— Stefani Seffinger is a member of the Ashland City Council.

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