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."