Thursday, December 23, 2010


In the past month, two Parks & Recreation Employees have been charged with stealing materials and equipment from the Parks & Recreation Department. This entry is not about the specifics of those cases.

Rather, I am writing today about how those cases relate to the critical and fragile trust between the City and the community we serve. Whenever I learn that a public employee anywhere (not just in Ashland) has stolen from their employer, I feel betrayed. Theft from a government is not theft from that agency. It is theft from citizens and taxpayers – the very people we work for.

As a student of history, I know that in the early 20th century, widespread corruption in government lead to many of the laws that govern public employee ethics today. Oregon was a leader in the reforms of the Progressive Era. Our state has some of the strictest laws in the country to ensure public officials – elected or employed – don’t receive personal financial gain by virtue of their public office.

In Ashland, we have raised the ethical bar even higher with Ashland Municipal Code 3.08. That code reminds us that the public interest is the primary concern of public officials. But it goes further. This section of code specifically states that public officials cannot use City owned property for personal use unless it is available to all members of the public. In other words, borrowing city equipment to use at home is more than unethical. It’s illegal.

City employees are public servants. Many of us have chosen our careers because it allows us to improve life for other people. From electricity, water. sewer, and transportation to police and fire protection to quality development, the community depends on us for basic needs, for protection, and for a good quality of life. At the City of Ashland, we also know that we have a passionate, involved citizenry who participate in the community. We know people are watching.

The City regularly conducts ethics training for our employees, but in the next few weeks we’ll be doing a refresher training to make sure every employee knows about the obligations they have under State and Ashland laws. In addition, we will investigate every allegation of wrong doing by City employees. The citizens of Ashland should be able to count on their employees to do the right thing at all times, and we will not take that important trust for granted.

I welcome your thoughts and comments on this issue.


Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Correct false allegations

At the Council meeting on Tuesday December 7, 2010 a number of people spoke to the Council about the City of Ashland police enforcement of the camping ordinance. False statements were made and, as the Chief of Police, I want to correct those allegations.

The police are taking my camping gear.”
The only time an officer would take camping gear is if the person has their camping gear with them at the time of an arrest. The gear is held at the Ashland Police Department and the person can reclaim it once they are released from jail. If the person is with someone else at the time of the arrest, they often leave their gear with the other person.
Police Officers are only allowed to take personal property/camping gear from a campsite if a noticed has been posted at the campsite 24 hours in advance. The personal property is stored at the Ashland Police Department. Personal property is defined in the Ashland Municipal Code as follows.

Personal property means any item that is reasonably recognizable as belonging to a person and that has apparent utility. Items that have no apparent value or utility or are in an unsanitary or putrescent condition may be immediately discarded.” AMC 10.46.040

The police have used unnecessary force to wake people up or otherwise enforce the camping ordinance.”
If someone feels an officer used unnecessary force he should report the incident. I have not received any complaints about the use of unnecessary force and our officers are required to make a report of all uses of force.

When I receive a complaint about an officer and enforcement, I review the video and/or audio of the incident. If the recording shows the officer did nothing wrong, I invite the person who made the complaint to watch the video with me and point out what the officer did wrong. If the recording shows the complaint is justified I take appropriate steps with the officer.

In Ashland, most enforcement encounters occur near a police car and are audio and video recorded, and most encounters that occur away from the police car are audio recorded. Almost all of the recent actions taken in or around the Plaza occurred close enough to police vehicles that we should have both audio and video recordings of the recent actions taken in or around the Plaza.

Taser Use
There were also some comments made at the council meeting about officers using Tasers on homeless people. No Ashland officer has used a Taser on anyone in over four years. An officer cannot activate a Taser without activating the video and audio recorder.

I understand that when people are passionate about an issue, their comments can become exaggerated and embellished but I felt compelled to clarify these statements. I am proud of our officers and know them to be courteous, patient and compassionate.


Chief Holderness

Wednesday, December 8, 2010


Recently, people protesting on the Plaza have drawn attention to the impacts of enforcing the city’s ban on camping on public property.

On December 7, more than 20 people spoke to the City Council and many of them asked the Council to suspend enforcement on the camping ordinance.

Previous City Council’s have grappled with the same issue over the years. The current ban is just two years old, and the issues debated then are the same as those being debated today. Everyone needs a safe place to sleep, but camping in parks and sidewalks may not be the safest or the most sanitary. At the request of Councilor Navickas, the City Council will discuss the possibility of suspending enforcement of the camping ordinance at their meeting on December 21, 2010.

People who camp are the most visible face of homelessness. Homelessness shows up in many ways: some people live in their cars, others borrow the couches of friends, some sleep in shelters, and some people live on the street. People become homeless for many reasons: from losing a job, experiencing domestic violence, having a mental illness, or losing their housing or dozens of other reasons.

In February of this year, the City Council set a goal to address homelessness. The City Council will begin their work on this goal at a study session on January 31, 2011.

Jackson County and Ashland have many organizations and people who have worked on this issue. The County’s 10-year plan to end homelessness was recently adopted and we will draw on many of the same government entities, non-profits, social services, the faith community and local citizens who worked on this plan.

In addition, we know the loss of ICCA was a blow to dealing with the direct needs of homeless people, and we hope that non-profits and the faith community will want to replace those services.

In no community has any one sector “solved” homelessness. Neither government, nor non-profits, nor churches, nor people working alone have the solution to homelessness. The City can convene, but not own, the problem of safe and secure housing for all citizens. I hope a broad spectrum of citizens and organizations will help us as the Council begins their work in late January.


Martha Bennett