Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Mayor's "Christmas Message" for 2009

Christmas is a religious holiday. It's also a government holiday in this land of religious freedom and separation of church and state. And it's a big commercial event in which any spiritual or religious meaning tends to get swamped in stuff. In this context how can the Mayor's "Christmas Message" be anything more than a perfunctory formality - I have to write it; you don't have to read it?

Well, let's start with this...My religious up-bringing was determined by a legal contract. My Swedish Methodist father somehow managed to fall in love with my Italian Catholic mother and the only way she could continue to receive the sacraments was for them to sign an agreement that their children would be raised Catholic.

So my brother and I went to Mass every Sunday and Catechism on Saturdays but with no religious or spiritual guidance at home...ever. Once, the nuns encouraged me to bring my father into the fold and I discovered how hard it had been for him to sign that agreement. (His father, two uncles and two brothers were all Methodist ministers.)

Christmases, which we celebrated with my mother's family on Christmas Eve, were noisy marathons of discussion and arguments, amid large volumes of food and presents. Around hour three an in-law would make predictably offensive comments about the Pope and eventually a contingent would troop off to Midnight Mass. It was food, family and stuff - no Baby Jesus, Wise Men, light in the darkness...

But one year someone brought a stranger, a person not well known to any of us but stranded for the holiday. I can't remember who it was but that person, by his or her mere presence, transformed the event. Instead of just blending in, they became the center of interest. My disputant relatives became curious, sensitive, and generous with their attention. The happening was so successful it was repeated the next year and soon was an unofficial part of our Christmases and clearly the most meaningful for everyone.

I often wondered how my intense, argumentative relatives found such tenderness for people they didn't even know. And it was a quiet Christmas miracle that this brought out the finest qualities in our guests, some of whom over the years became part of the family. In reflecting back, I wonder if it had to do with my mother's family being immigrants who knew first hand what it was like to be far from home in an unfamiliar place.

This was how 'the spirit' crept into my Christmas. There was no sermon, no doctrinal or Constitutional dispute; and the food and gifts became a setting for something very human, real and touching. I think all of us here in Ashland, in our compassionate and generous instincts, especially at this time of year, can find each other and help bind our community together.

And so - in this particular sense - may I wish you all, "Merry Christmas!"?

Friday, December 18, 2009

Cold Weather Helpful Hints from Ashland Fire

As we've seen recently, temperatures can drop below freezing at any time, Ashland residents should take precautions now to prevent their pipes from freezing. When unprotected water lines are exposed to freezing temperatures for several hours, the water in the pipes also freezes. As water freezes, it expands and can cause pipes to crack or split, which can lead to significant leaks that may cause extensive water loss and substantial property damage. This is true with domestic water supply, fire sprinkler piping, and irrigation piping.

Ashland Fire and Rescue offers these tips to help prevent their pipes from freezing:

• Keep kitchen and bath pipes exposed to warm air by leaving cabinet doors open during periods of extreme cold.
• Don’t turn the thermostat too low or off when leaving for work or extended absences. Keep the temperature set at a normal nighttime setting.
• Locate the master water shut-off valve, label it, and make sure everyone in the family knows where it is.
• If residents are going to be gone from their homes for any length of time, shut off the water supply at the main valve; then turn on faucets and flush the toilets to drain the pipes. Drained water can be collected and used to water house plants or other domestic uses.

• Disconnect and drain all outdoor hoses. Detaching the hose allows water to drain from the pipe.
• Protect faucets with insulated covers available at hardware and building supply stores.
• Winterize irrigation systems by draining and shutting off water supplies.
• Close all windows and doors near water lines, including garage doors.
• Caulk around pipes where they enter the house.
• Close foundation vents and seal cracks in the basement, crawl spaces or along outside walls.
• Wrap pipes in unheated areas with weatherproof insulation. Don’t leave any gaps.
• Use heat tape to wrap pipes. Consult a professional if necessary.

John Karns, Fire Chief

Monday, December 14, 2009

Employee Giving Campaign

As you may or may not be aware, each year City employees give countless hours of their own personal time volunteering in a wide variety of non-profit organizations, church groups, youth sports teams, and other local community organizations. In addition to those volunteer hours, from mid-November to mid-December the City employees hold a Giving Campaign where a committee of employees pick a few local charities and raise funds to help those organizations. The final days of our current Giving Campaign are winding down this week and we are currently on-pace to not only exceed last year's giving but to double the total amount given!

In addition to their generous financial contributions, City employees are doing several other charitable campaigns. First of all, they are holding a food drive for the Ashland Emergency Food Bank. If you want to assist in their efforts, please feel free to leave non-perishable contributions in the barrels located in all City Buildings. Second, the Ashland Police Department, located at 1155 East Main Street, is accepting new, unwrapped toys for Toys for Tots. Third, city employees will be giving blood during their annual Blood Drive for the American Red Cross in January of 2010.

City of Ashland employees certainly are not alone in their support of local and national charities. Thank you to everyone who give generously, at this time and throughout the year, to make Ashland, Jackson County, and our world a better place.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Stormy Weather

A few reminders with today's freezing weather:

It is the responsibility of the home and/ or business owner who owns the property directly adjacent to maintain the sidewalk. In other words, the City will not be salting or scraping any sidewalks, except for those in front of City properties.

Here is a link to the order in which streets are plowed or sanded.

We hope you all have a safe winter weekend!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

A lively visit and wonderful thank you notes

On Monday, November 23, 2009, third graders from Helman Elementary School came and toured city hall. They spent time with Mayor Stromberg, toured the old jail cell in the building and heard two sentence job decriptions from many city employees. It was great fun having them visit and we hope they enjoyed their visit.

Here are just a handful of the wonderful thank you notes we received from the students:

Dear Mayor
Thank you for taking time to show us around the City Hall. Thanks for taking us in the Jail. You have a lot of humor. is it fun to be the Mayor? I liked learning about Ashland. I am glad we have people to help with the sewer and the electricity and water. You are a great mayor
Sincerely, Habib

Dear Mayor Stromberg,
Thank you for taking time off from your work to spend time with us. It was really nice of you. My favorite thing we did was going into the jail. I also really liked meeting the other people and finding out what there Job's are. I'm really glade we came.
Sincerely, Quinn

Dear Mayor Stromberg,
Thank you for giving up your time so we can come and visit you! I liked all the thing's that we did. you have a great sense of humor and I hope we can come back some time. I liked going in the old jail the best! you are a good helper for the envioroment and a good friend to us. your new friend Gabriel

Dear Mayor Stromberg,
Thank you for having the time for us to come. Thank you also for introducing us to the other People. On the way there we went to Alex's & had hot coco it was good! There was people taking pic's of are class & some made on the new's paper! But I was tired so I diden't have much fun. It was fun going in the jail but now I feel giltty. The jail door looked really real. I loved visting you it was cool.
Thanks again!
Sincerely Hope,

Dear Mayor Stromberg,
Thank you for letting us come to city hall and Thankyou for letting us meet your friends. It was an awesome field trip! I had a really fun time at City Hall. When we went to jail it was so stinky I could have died after a day. I thought your office would be a lot bigger. But I was wrong. It's tiny. I couldn't beleve we set a world record for being the biggest class in your office. I had an awesome time. I hope we can visit again.
Sincerely, Kate

Dear Mayor Stromberg,
Thank you so much for letting us come to the city Hall. I thought going to jail with a mayor was pretty silly! I sure hope that our class will get in the guinness world record book for being the most third graders in a mayors office!

Dear Mayor Stromberg
Thank you for spending time with us. My favorite thing was the jail. How long has it been there?, I also liked the walk around and asking people for two sentences about their job. I can't believe 28 kids fit in your office.
Sincerely Connor

Thank you to all the students for visiting us in City Hall!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

A New Introduction

As the Mayor stated in his blog of November 17, this blog will be going through some changes. From here on out Administration will be handling most of the posts, with the occasional "op-ed" piece from the Mayor, City Council, or City Staff Member. The day-to-day posts will be used to keep you informed regarding the current happenings in the City of Ashland and to give you the best possible information we can on issues facing the City Council. The "op-ed" pieces will be used to give perspective on broader issues.

I look forward to this new adventure. If you have any comments, questions, or concerns feel free to comment here (please remember comments are not posted) or give the Administration office a call at 541-488-6002.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

November 17, 2009

The Last Blog - Shifting Gears

I've been getting discreet but increasing pressure from parties not to be named, to either blog weekly or do something else. I agree. Clearly it's time for a change...

What's been happening is that, over the past several months, I have been trying to concentrate my attention on issues, projects, problems that count the most. Also I've been trying to carve out time for the personal side of my life, which has been playing second fiddle to being Mayor for a good portion of my first year in office.

So I'm going to change the blog to a collection of "op-ed" type pieces that appear roughly once a month or so. And I will comment more on current topics rather than a pot pourri of 'life as Mayor'. This will be an experiment because talking about work in process may get tricky. Sometimes good ideas need a lot of nurturing before they're ready to appear in public and, as I knew when I took office, being part of the workings of City government on a day-by-day basis entails becoming more susceptible to that inside world. Personal relationships are established that must be respected. Ideas are shared, possibilities proposed, misconceptions revealed, etc. that are preliminary to actual action. I haven't found a way yet of communicating about these things and may never do so. But I am going to try to 'talk' about what I'm focusing on and try to give a flavor of how I experience it.

So enough abstractions. Tonight, as I write this, I'm mixing watching the Blazers play Charlotte and the Oregon football team vs Arizona State, with reading through a voluminous summary of the public feedback on the Council's goals from last April's goal-setting session. At that session I held back my own suggestions so that the Council would frame, and therefore own, its own goals. They are the policy makers, after all. But this year I want to chime in more. I also want to see how much I agree with the public input and whether or not there are some ideas I can incorporate in my suggestions to the Council.

I also wrote a note to the Council this evening, with some suggestions about how I run/facilitate the Council meetings. I've been sticking to Robert's Rules so far but would like to have the Councilors talk to me about our process 'on the fly', i.e. in the course of our discussions. Up to now I've tried to preserve the train of thought of a discussion and not allowed interruptions but sometimes the Council may be ready to vote, or may want to set one discussion aside until the next meeting so that we can move on to another topic and I want to loosen up our protocol so they can simply interrupt and not have to resort to Robert's level formality. We'll see how they respond to my suggestions.

And, in the back of my mind tonight as I head to bed (assuming I don't fall into the grips of an Independent Film Channel offering) is the Economic Development planning process that kicks off this week and will run for about 8 months or so. It could be one of the most important things your City government does during my term of office and I really want it to have substance and make a difference. This will require doing a lot more than going through the motions. Yet going through the motions, however smoothly, is what you can easily get when you put a bunch of very busy, creative people together to work on a very complex and important task with a limited amount of time. More on this in a later piece.

In the meantime, have a nice Thanksgiving. Jane and I will be in the Bay Area with our daughters, our son-in-law, our seven year old grandson and his 18 month old twin sisters. They're on my mind too tonight, and I'm smiling. Check out this picture that arrived today.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

October 14th

A Bridge to Somewhere

Freeway overpasses are usually soulless utilitarian structures. Sturdy, functional and dull. But the Exit 14 bridge over I-5 is really a gateway to the State of Oregon and Ashland is a gateway city. The bridge’s design should reflect its importance and the distinctive style of our town.

Starting next summer that’s exactly what it will do. ODOT is rebuilding the overpass for seismic safety and has taken the occasion to collaborate with community groups and individual citizens to develop a design for the new bridge.

I’ve seen the new look and it’s truly a transformation. The bridge is now sculpted, with Art Deco details that echo the Ashland Springs Hotel. A palette of natural colors blend with the landscape and decorative railings and period light standards tie the whole piece together.

Once it’s completed drivers coming north from California will notice they’re passing through a special portal and this impression will be repeated thousands of times every day. What the design committee, consultants and citizens labored on quietly for months will give a memorable experience to everyone entering this end of the State for decades to come.

Nice work, Aesthetics Advisory Committee! Nice work Public Arts and Planning Commissions, Tree Commission and Historic Commission, Chamber of Commerce and individual citizens and artists! Nice work ODOT, Art Anderson, Galbraith & Associates and Quincy Engineering! Your collaboration and artistic flair enriches our lives and draws favorable attention to our city.

And, as a bonus, the Exit 19 bridge has a complimentary design as well.

Thank you!"

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

This is a pitch...

Last week I helped launch something that turned out to be much more than I had imagined.

“It” is Ashland Audiowalks' pilot test of its first audio tour and what it consists of takes a little explaining.

I can best liken it to when you were a little kid, sitting next to someone reading from a book you loved. Pretty soon you weren’t in the room any more but somewhere else, vividly experiencing what was happening before your eyes, all conjured up by the story.

So visualize this: You go down to the Ashland Springs Hotel (having called first to make sure a tourplayer’s available - 488 1700) and pick up your tour map and the magic wand that will open windows into Ashland’s past. (This is the tourplayer - it’s like a tv remote that you listen to on the tour.) Then find the starting point on the map, down by the Plaza, and press number 1 on your player. A voice starts talking to you, revealing a secret that happened on that very spot a hundred years ago.

It sets the scene and the story unfolds. At every point on the map - and there are over 20 - you get another glimpse into the Ashland that came before. You start to feel you’re living back then and you realize that you’re recovering your own history, that is to say the history of where you now live. It’s quite amazing.

Ashland Audiowalks* is the work of Paul Christensen, who conceived of and created the walk I sampled. It’s the first of a planned set of three that cover old downtown. He’s formed a nonprofit to produce these tours. (The player and map cost $7.50 to rent.) He and his collaborators want us to try it out and give them feedback.

I invite you to join in the project. It’s a real gift to the community and a boost for local businesses as well because it helps visitors feel more at home in our town. The website is:


After you try it please tell me about your experience.

* Ashland Audiowalks is a community service of the Imagine Project, a non-profit 501 c 3 corporation.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009


A city with 8 times the population of Ashland, perched at the altitude of the Mt. Ashland ski area.

Founded 66 years before the Pilgrims set foot on Plymouth Rock.

That fought for independence from its European masters 66 years before Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence.

With eight active mines that supply 80% of the world's silver.

Where police wear Level 4 body armor, carry automatic rifles and salute the Mayor; and new laws are posted on the wall of City Hall to the accompaniment of a raucous bugle and drum corps.

And on warm summer nights bands of athletic young guitar and mandolin players lead dancing, singing, laughing crowds through narrow twisting cobbled alleyways, past blocky apartments in primary colors, public building of pink and gray Cantera stone and plazas and outdoor cafes everywhere.

This is your sister, Ashland, for the past forty years...built on increasing collaboration between our universities, a newly signed agreement with OSF and the Cervantes Festival, Rotary-sponsored, self-help housing funded by $70,000 raised in a single event last month, an Ashland Room in the official cultural center and a children's library with english language books; and graciously descending Paseo Ashland, unveiled just last Wednesday, with construction funding facilitated by UNESCO's World Heritage Cities program. Plus a hundred ceremonial moments with a thousand official speeches, gifts, plaques, kisses on one check, back pats and handshakes; gifts when arriving, gifts when departing, gifts for the fun of it; music, dancing, poetry...

At the end of each day, and the beginning, open-hearted, convivial, eminently sociable strangers who become friends. The foundation is persona a persona, people to people.

And where is it going now, what William Stafford calls 'the parade of our mutual lives'? It is being lived by the children of our 79 bi-communal marriages. But how will we sisters shape it for the new world that's being born?

Guanajuato-Ashland at 40.

Sunday, August 23, 2009


As some of you may know (wrote he, having no idea whether or not anyone is going to read this...), I resolved some months ago to report at every Council meeting on the Oregon National Guard during its entire deployment to Iraq. They are part of our community and I believe we should stay mindful of them, as we would if a particular soldier was a personal friend or a relative.

For a couple of months the news was pretty tame. Then at the August 4th meeting I reported that one of the Guard's vehicles had been hit by two IEDs (road-side bombs). Fortunately no one was hurt.

But Friday, Aug. 14th, I was reading the Oregonian online and found this:


As I read down the column I was stunned. And I realized the reporter was trying to do the complementary part to what I'm trying to do: keep us back in Ashland aware of what really is happening to the troops. Only I just wasn't prepared for it.

In retrospect I think it's worth mentioning how the Oregon soldiers quickly rushed to this soldier's side as he was carried from the scene; an Oregon medic rode in the helicopter with him in addition to the regular medic on duty and his fellow soldiers set up a rotation so that someone was always with him in the hospital until they evacuated him for further treatment and eventually to come home.

One of those soldiers who took turns sitting by his bed was the Colonel in charge of the entire Brigade. I met him at the deployment ceremonies in Central Point. At the time I didn't understand his sober demeanor. Now I do - he feels personally responsible for every soldier.

As do we.

Monday, August 3, 2009

"The Real Mayor"

There’s the job of the Mayor and then there’s “being” the Mayor.

Naturally there have been surprises since taking office, and also things I anticipated but are just different when you (I) actually experience them. Being “The Mayor” is one of those things.

It’s clear that people want more from the Mayor than to simply do a good job and represent the City in various formal occasions and community gatherings. It’s also more than being an ombudsman and a one person complaint bureau. There is a character in the play, “Ashland, the City”, called The Mayor and the play just isn’t the same if whom we see up on stage is Joe X in a Mayor’s costume.

So who is this character? I’d like to know your opinions.

Personally, I’m in the process of figuring it out, playing by ear, occasionally being fed lines from the prompter’s box. I believe the Mayor is in love with the city, is fascinated by it, proud and protective of it. He (or she) tells its story, not just the past but also where it’s going. He steals a lot of the story from others; wherever he goes he listens for fragments and then strings them together into a yarn.

I also think “the Mayor” feels for (on behalf of; symbolically?) the city. He expresses the city’s heart: its compassion, its optimism, its generosity, its reserve,

At his best “the Mayor” enunciates the communal wisdom and is a reassuring voice in uncertain times...

Now I’m freaking myself out. How can anyone do all that?

Oh, and the Mayor has to be real.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Goals, Values, Vision

The City Council recently approved a draft set of values, a draft vision statement and 15 two-year goals. Now we are interested in community feedback on all three.

Before I talk about the community feedback process, let me give you some background on how we got where we are. Each year the council gathers to create a list of goals in order to give staff, our volunteer commissions and the Council itself a set of targets to focus our work for the upcoming year(s). This year, however, we have two new council members and a new mayor so we felt it was important to additionally establish the overarching values and visions of this community. This is important to ensure the Council and city staff is representing the community’s view of itself and of its future.

Community involvement in this project is of the utmost importance. I feel that the Council cannot, and should not, finalize any of these values, visions, or goals without allowing ample time and opportunity for community dialogue.

In an effort to reach as many citizens as possible, we are approaching the community involvement process in many ways including; council liaisons will be presenting the drafts to each of our commissions (ideally, commissioners will respond both as individuals and as a group), there are feedback forms for each of the three components (see the links below) on the City of Ashland website, we will be talking to local service clubs and organizations, and, as always, we encourage everyone to offer feedback via responses to this blog, letters, e-mails, phone calls, and public testimony at council meetings. If you have any additional suggestions on how to get the word out about this process, please be sure to let me know.

Here is a link to the draft values feedback page. Values are supposed to represent what is most important to us as a community.

Here is a link to the draft vision statement feedback page. A vision statement should describe the long term direction in which Ashland should be moving.

And here is the two-year goals feedback page. Goals should be concrete policy actions the Council expects to focus on through July of 2011.

Ideally all three (values, goals, vision) would be completely consistent with each other. In the real world, however, there are often tensions among the three. It is the purpose of our community dialogue to refine, clarify and better align these three elements.

The Council expects to review a revised list of values and a revised vision in November. Input regarding the goals will be used for the Council's goal setting process for Fiscal 2011, which begins next January.

If you have any questions about this process check out the City’s website or contact Ann Seltzer at 552-2106.

Thanks for your help. Be sure to spread the word to your friends and neighbors and encourage their participation in this important work. The Council and I are looking forward to your response.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Fresh, Local and Fair

Bought some chard at the Saturday Market yesterday. Each piece was a different color, different size. The sun shone through them, glowing emerald green. They had that unmistakable look of freshness. They also weren’t one of the leathery, long-lasting varieties you get at some natural food stores, unless they’re buying locally.

"How much?", I asked. 2 dollars a bunch was the reply. As I pulled out my wallet for the money another question came to me..."What’s the _fair_price?" Three dollars. I fished out another bill.
Why? Well, first of all I place a high value on fresh. When I’m eating food from our own garden I try to wait til the last minute to pick. Really fresh vegetables taste different to me. More importantly, I feel different after eating them, more satisfied.

And then there’s local. I like to eat things that come from the soil close to where I spend my time. I have the idea - totally unsubstantiated by ‘objective proof’ - that there’s something beneficial to eating locally.

Lastly, when I shop for organic vegetables I’m as interested in the farmer/gardener as I am in his or her produce. We pay very little for vegetables, in my estimation. Somehow our economic system has produced inexpensive vegetables (unless they are shipped in from the Southern hemisphere...) So I want this grower, who grows chard down at the end of my town, and picked it this morning, to survive.

Why wasn’t he charging the ‘fair’ price, i.e. the price that made sense in terms of the work and costs he has to put into my stalks of emerald green fresh local chard? Which includes the work he expends building soil fertility in the land that he rents or leases and which could be converted to another use by the owner at any time, thereby throwing away seasons’ of soil-building?
The answer is that there were five or six other growers also selling produce at the market and, in the classic ‘free market’ process, they were pushing each others’ prices down to the level of their costs. Actually, if you think about it, below their actual costs - because that chard wasn’t going to be worth much after 1 PM Saturday when the market closes. I think markets are valuable economic entities but sometimes they don’t work right. I also dislike regulation because it is clumsy and expensive. What to do?

Well, here’s an idea: next Saturday perhaps the growers should compare notes as they’re putting out their veggies and decided what they think is a ‘fair’ price, i.e. one that will keep them in business so we can have fresh, local, organic produce next year as well as this year. And they could agree to post this price alongside whatever they’re actually charging (which may vary during the day). That’s all.

Let people decide what they want to pay, asking price or fair price or in between. We’re a community. These growers ‘belong’ to us. We can pay them the fair price if we want - but not as a favor or out of the goodness of our hearts but rather because we benefit from keeping them in business.

Buon appetito!

Monday, June 22, 2009


At a party recently some friends were lamenting my embarrassing mistake in proposing a gasoline tax at last Monday’s study session and then withdrawing it from the agenda on Tuesday night. After I explained what was actually going on - and wasn’t reported in the paper - they agreed that it might not have been a ‘real’ mistake but still contended it was a perceived mistake so far as the public’s perception was concerned.

The story as reported was that I urged the Council to institute a gasoline tax and reduce the street improvement fee that appears on everyone’s utility bill, by an amount that balanced out the increased burden from the gas tax. This sounded at best like fiddling with tricky tax shifts at the last minute and, at worst - for those who stop reading as soon as they see the words, “add a tax” - as putting more burdens on citizens at the worst possible time.

What was missing from the story was the possibility that, as part of the deal, the City would receive about $430,000 in matching Federal funds. We said at the Study Session that we were checking on that (crucial) aspect before Tuesday’s Council meeting. In the end there were no matching funds and I pulled the item from Tuesday’s agenda.

But here’s the interesting question: should I avoid taking the risk of being misunderstood, and therefore shaking some citizens’ confidence, rather than pursuing what might have been a big win for the city? Also I did it not just for the potential financial gain for the community but because I want City government to get used to moving fast when opportunities arise. (In a similar vein, I think we should prepare plans for desirable projects for which we don’t have funding, in order to have something besides street paving in our shovel-ready portfolio.)

What do you think? Should I be more conservative about this type of risk-taking?"

Monday, June 8, 2009

June 8, 2009 Naked Distraction

Last year it was Jen. This year it’s an older man whose name I don’t know and whom I’ve never met. Now the question is, how will the government react?

I got an email last week from someone from out of state, that was virulent in its tone, commanding me and the Council to clean up the mess in Ashland or suffer the loss of the author’s tourist dollars to Medford and other stops along I-5.

Flashback from last weekend when I attended two nights of painful and disturbing plays about the Palestinian/Israeli conflict at Oregon Stageworks. Except at the end we had a conversation about the polarizing anger that divides communities into worlds that never can meet. It’s not the anger that bothers me, nor the lack of respect (although it stings) but the frightening way we lose ourselves in demonizing the other side.

To me this is like a disease, or an extremely powerful addiction, that so easily possesses us and seals us off from each other, when our survival depends on maintaining awareness of what the other - side, person, adversary - is going through. Not always, but sometimes, we have a choice. We can see what is happening and choose not to go there.

Why we can sometimes make that choice I can’t explain. It’s a quiet miracle, upon which our future depends. Sometime we just choose not to let ourselves slip under the surface of our moral intuition.

So it’s sex in June time again. The City has very important things to work on in this off year grace period between elections. Our future is very unclear...and is ours to decide if we can focus and find our common purposes. I don’t know how we’ll deal with this year’s nudity. I’ll just be grateful if we keep it in proportion to our really important tasks."

Friday, May 29, 2009

May 29, 2009 Surprising

I went to see our new U.S. Senator, Jeff Merkley, speak in Medford last Tuesday. He was very impressive: well informed, good listener, kept his composure in the face of sometimes unfriendly questioning, seems to be making his way in the Senate. Somehow he’s been appointed to three major committees, Healthcare, Environment and Banking even thought freshman Senators are normally limited to two committee assignments.

But I should also confess that, in talking with a friend that same day I expressed the opinion that local government is really where we have to make things work and that I wasn’t sure, short of money, what the Federal government could do for us, it being so remote from our lives. Well, as often happens when I say something like that, life turns around and surprises me...which is what happened this morning when I visited the Head Start programs that are housed at Briscoe Schools.

Funded by the Federal government and the State of Oregon, the programs at Briscoe provide care for as many as 100 pre-school children whose parents are migrant or seasonal workers or who are low income. The kids are bussed in from Medford, Talent, Phoenix, White City, starting at 5 in the morning. They get two meals and a snack, have two teachers per classroom with self-directed learning activities appropriate for the different age groups all the way down to toddlers (who get bottles, diaper changes, toys and attention). Medical, dental and mental health care is available to them and parents are eligible for jobs in the program, with a policy of hiring from within.

Why do we have a program in Ashland that primarily serves kids from outside our town? Just a matter of circumstances: Briscoe is an excellent facility, probably much better than the others that were available six years ago when the programs moved here.

The net result is a nurturing and secure environment for children who would otherwise be getting very uncertain care as their parents try to make ends meet. It was heartwarming to see. The director and his assistant then showed me the bookcase full of regulations they must meet. Head Start has been around for 40 years or more. It’s astonishing the level of bureaucracy that’s involved. BUT the program is very well conceived and is doing wonderful things for children who really need the care and parents who can’t provide it on their own but are trying to be responsible for their kids’ well-being.

So I’ll admit it; I was wrong. This is something the Federal and State governments are doing well, that is of great value to our community of the Rogue Valley. Maybe it’s socialism. I don’t know. I don’t want to live in a regimented society but I also feel we need to take care of each other, especially our children, and we need to be committed about it and not simply depend on volunteers and private donations that can dry up at a time like now.

If you’d like to visit the program let me know and I’ll arrange it.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

May 5, 2009 Deployment

Sometimes you can’t grasp the significance of an event until you experience it directly for yourself. That’s what happened for me yesterday afternoon when I participated in ceremonies honoring service men and women of the Oregon Army National Guard, and their families, who are being deployed for a year to Iraq.

The event took place at the main pavilion at Expo in Central Point and I was invited to be one of three public officials who spoke - the others two were Governor Kulongoski and Representative Peter Defazio. I was selected because one of the companies that comprise the Battalion involved in the ceremony is based in Ashland.

The Mayor of Ashland, speaking in Central Point to National Guard soldiers going to Iraq isn’t what I would have expected when I ran for office but this was a wonderful event to be part of and a challenge to Ashland.

These people are part of our community - and we are part of their community. They’re going into a dangerous situation, protecting convoys all over Iraq, and I’m sure their families and friends are very worried. I also think they have a chance to help people in Iraq rebuild their society after years of war, which I believe we as Americans have a responsibility to do.

So, basically, our part is to be mindful of them for the year they’re in Iraq. I’m going to try to help that to happen. This blog is the first step and I’ll report on the ceremony tonight at the Council meeting. Also I’ve asked Captain Karl Haeckler from our local National Guard facility, to keep me informed about the Battalion on a weekly basis. And the Brigade’s commanding officer promised to send me his biweekly email.

When I saw and met the people at this ceremony I realized how tied together we all are and how responsible we who are able to continue our lives in Ashland are for supporting our fellow community members who are uprooting their lives to help people on the other side of the world. More to follow....

Here’s a link to a photo of the ceremony:

Thursday, April 23, 2009

April 23, 2009 Back to What?

It was a beautiful spring day today, sunny, blue skies, beginning to get warm. - and I think a lot of people are feeling a yearning for things to settle down, for this deeply disturbing crisis to be over. For things to go back to where they were before.

But where is that? What previous point in time would we choose? I mean, to have reality be the way it was in: dot dot dot, you fill in the date.

Before the subprime mess? Before the Iraq war? Before 911? No, wait..before the dot com bust?
I don’t know about you but I can’t pick a point in the past that I would choose to return to. So where does that leave me, or us? Maybe imagining a new reality is more reassuring than hoping to get back to an elusive ‘safe and secure’ past.

I know some people have been thinking about this for a long time - but what does the answer look like in the context of today’s world?

Where are you headed?

Friday, March 13, 2009

March 13: Calling All CSAs

From what I pick up ‘anecdotally’ there’s a sharp increase in interest in growing your own vegetables this spring. I’ve already been out in our new garden planting spring varieties and peering at mysterious bright green little leafy things popping up through the recent snowfalls.
But not everyone has the space or time to tend his or her own garden and in these cases CSAs may play a valuable role. As probably everyone in Ashland knows, CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. In my experience this has usually meant paying a farmer who lived near town a lump sum fee early in the spring and then receiving boxes or bags of food on a weekly basis during the growing season - perhaps not the ultimate picking your own veggies minutes before eating them but maybe the next best thing so far as freshness and ‘local’ is concerned - plus it’s supporting local growers.
So here’s a partial list of in-town or near-to-town CSAs. If you know of a CSA that’s not on the list, please send it to me and I’ll add it below.
Buon appetito!

- White Sage Gardens 488-7489
- The Village Farm 301 6447
- Garden Basket 201 0372
- Happy Dirt Veggie Patch 499-4903
- Meadowlark Family Farm 820-8182
- Barking Moon Farm 846-6297
- Fry Family Farm http://www.fryfamilyfarm.com/
- Siskiyou Sustainable Cooperative http://www.siskiyoucoop.com/
- Blue Fox Farm CSA (http://bluefoxorganics.com)

Monday, February 23, 2009

Feb. 23rd “Shovel Ready” - or A New Perspective on Buzzwords and Clich├ęs

I participated in a panel at the Food Security event this weekend and began my remarks with this phrase. I’m guessing it’s set a world record to buzzdom, getting there in about two months or so. But the reason I used the term is because I believe it should apply to everything new we want to do, in City government and in our community.

"Shovel ready" means thought through all the way - so that, if somehow the necessary funds turn up, we can put out an RFP or set the start date tomorrow, at the latest. Whether it’s a community composting system, a proposal to re-brand Ashland as a center for sustainability, film-making, and geo-tourism, as well as our traditional OSF-based identity, or a shuttle service for Mountain Meadows and the other senior residences in town, we should have everything worked out and ready to go.

Events are moving so fast these days that we can’t do things in a step by step process. To often good ideas get blocked because we don’t know where we’ll get the resources to implement them. I say pursue every good idea as if we can afford it. This is our only chance to keep pace with the changes sweeping through our world.

Maybe it’s a case of "Build it and they will come."

Or "Luck is when preparation meets opportunity.""

Thursday, February 19, 2009

What happened to the Feb. 10 posting?

To tell the truth, I’ve been trying to write a response to Jeff Golden’s recent ADT column in which he challenged me to find a way for the City to provide $25,000 for small sustainability grants. I may have
something on that next week. In the meantime, here’s a comment/question from Jo French, Sr., whom I doubt would favor Jeff’s proposal...

Mr. French writes: “I'm interested in your view as to the purposes of local government; e.g., I believe "’The fundamental purpose of government is the maintenance of basic security and public order — without which individuals cannot attempt to find happiness’" (Wikipedia) which is derived from our national and state constitutions. At the local level this translates into Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness and involves budgets, staffing and such issues as water availability beyond our current sources...

I think any discussion on "sustainability" or opinions on how external economic forces may affect Ashland are secondary to the issues, above. Suffice to say that I believe that "cost effectiveness" should be more of a criteria for more of our local endeavors than is currently the case.”

Dear Mr. French,

I believe some sustainability issues fall clearly within your Wikipedia prescription - for example ensuring the future security of our water supply, preparing for wildfires in the watershed, providing electrical power that doesn’t depend on fossil fuels, etc. Other issues, such as localization of agriculture may fall both within and without the ‘fundamental purpose’ statement you quoted.

I’m not yet clear about whether or not sustainable economic development is something in which the City should become directly involved but bringing the community, including its public institutions,
together in planning for it is as essential for the public’s basic security as police and fire services. And every city I know of has it's wastewater system provided by a government entity. But we shouldn't get involved in activities that can be carried on better by private entities, such as garbage collection.

So on what specifics do you and I differ?

Monday, February 2, 2009

Some Questions for You This Time

If you attended the first Council meeting of the year or viewed the streaming video you have some idea of my perspective on the national/global economic situation and its implications for our own local economy. I, on the other hand, don’t know much about *your* impressions of these same events and processes. What’s more, they seem to be unfolding at a rapid pace so that this week’s version may be significantly different from that which I described in my Jan. 6th State of the City presentation.

Therefore, if you care to share, I would like to know the following:

1. What is the current condition of the U.S. and world economic system and where is it trending, so far as you can tell?

2. How much faith do you have in our government’s efforts to deal with this situation, both those of the Bush administration and President Obama’s proposed actions so far as you understand them/

3. How are these external forces affecting Ashland’s economy?

4. How bad do you think things could get before they ‘turn the corner’?

5. To what degree do you think, Ashlanders in general share your views described above?

I look forward to hearing from you.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Defining Sustainability

Back on Jan. 8th, when I gave a summary of the State of the City speech to the noon Rotary Club, a member asked me how I defined "sustainability". I can’t remember my exact response but it went something like this...

Actually, I resist defining sustainability...for a couple of reasons. First, I see "sustainability" more as a question to be applied to a wide range of circumstances, rather than a formula to be executed. Secondly, I think that it’s in Ashland’s interests to be supportive of a diverse community of sustainability practitioners (from the point of view of promoting Ashland as a center for sustainability). And thirdly, I’m wary of some definition of sustainability becoming an orthodoxy that preempts other approaches to the same end.

But in these times being able to define what you mean is often the first hurdle to earning credibility for a new idea. Otherwise there’s a presumption that it’s just a buzzword.

So I added that if you want to understand the *meaning* of the word ‘sustainability’ it’s probably best to look at specific examples. For instance, for a farming or gardening operation to be sustainable it needs to at least maintain the fertility of the soil being used. For a business to be sustainable it must be able to consistently make a profit (and an acceptable return on investment) without depending on continual growth. (And also with all its ‘outputs’ being fairly priced, including negative ones.) For a community to be sustainable in an environmental context it must at least stay within the carrying capacity of it water, air, and food-"sheds".

To this answer, my questioner at Rotary responded, "Well, then it’s common sense!" I just had a chance to say that, in a way that’s right, when we ran out of time. Thinking back on it I wished I’d added that if people had used common sense when first considering oil as an energy source we might be in a better spot today so far as global warming and the dependence on oil of our economy, transportation, food systems, and land use patterns are concerned.

As a footnote, after the meeting an architect came up and told me the response he gives to this question: "Sustainability can and should be considered to some extent at every level. Basically it equates to "responsibility" as custodians of our environment for future generations with decisions, actions and consumption."

So how do *you* define ‘sustainability’?

Monday, January 12, 2009

First Post

I am honored to serve as your Mayor. This is a different world we’re heading into in January 2009. In many ways we don’t know what to expect. Some of the inertia of the pre 2009 has shaken off and I am convinced there are opportunities for communities, with the imagination and initiative, to do extraordinary things. For many of us this past election was genuinely inspiring. I believe that President Obama’s message, “yes, we can!” profoundly changed our view of the future.

But the future has to become reality on the ground. So now the mantra becomes, “yes, we can!” right here in Ashland. I invite you to join the Council, myself and the entire City staff in doing something extraordinary these next four years.