Elected to the Jacksonville City Council four times and handily trumping a recall effort, Councilwoman Donna Schatz leaves office at the end of the year with praise for her efforts and diligent research.
Schatz, 79, chose to not seek re-election in November, ending 17 years of service. She was appointed to the council in 1995, when Jim Lewis was named mayor. Lewis, now a councilman again, was mayor from 1995 to 2008.
"Steady, thoughtful, conscientious," were the words Lewis used to describe Schatz. "She really studied every aspect that she could see of an issue before she came to a decision."
Making decisions is the primary reason for being on the council, said Schatz, but that has to follow research and weighing the thoughts of others. She said a thoughtful approach was needed rather than pushing a personal agenda.
"I tried not to do that, but to weigh the facts and listen to what the community tells me," said Schatz. "People who aren't close friends can let me know what's on their minds."
Lewis said Schatz's approach was exemplary.
"In 17 years I never saw a personal agenda," said the ex-mayor. "It is kind of unusual in any town to stick with it for 17 years. I think it's commendable."
Another former councilman echoed Lewis' thoughts.
"Her decisions have always been very good decisions, although the council didn't always follow them," said Jerry Mathern, who was on the body twice during Schatz's tenure. "She does not make a decision without a lot of research and facts and information."
Schatz was popular with voters, winning election to the council in 1996 and being re-elected three times, but staying in office wasn't always assured.
"I think I've had it all," said Schatz, referring to a five-vote win in 2007 that came after a recount and surviving a January 2011 recall vote.
Schatz beat the recall effort by a nearly two-to-one count, a result that Lewis said represented a mandate.
"I respect her for fighting it," said Lewis. "It's a tough thing to have to go through."
Hubert Smith mounted the recall vote, unhappy when the council, including Schatz, increased a surcharge for fire services after citizens had voted down a funding measure in May 2010.
"I couldn't have gotten through that one without support from the community," said Schatz. People she didn't even know offered support throughout the battle, she recalled.
"The people were very happy with her style or they wouldn't have kept re-electing her," said Mathern.
Schatz and her family moved to Jacksonville in the late 1960s. After earning a degree in accounting from the University of Oregon, she worked 10 years for a CPA firm in Salem that specialized in municipal audits. She ran her own tax business in the Rogue Valley.
"Given her financial professional skills, I always gave her a lot of credence whenever there was a financial issue," said Lewis.
Some contentious issues have involved both the public and the council, while others have remained largely at the council level, she said.
Relocation of the First Presbyterian Church was an example of the former, while the decision to opt out of Regional Problem Solving was more internal.
The church needed a larger location than its historic building and sought to construct on the east side of town in a residential area, but that was opposed by neighbors.
Ultimately the church ended up at the site, but with three buildings rather than one, and at greater expense, said Schatz. Along the way, the issue was fiercely debated by the council and Planning Commission, and legal actions were filed with the state Land Use Board of Appeals, the Oregon Appeals Court and the Oregon Supreme Court.
"It was tough on the church and tough on the community. It divided the community," said Schatz. She and Mathern also took criticism because they were members of the congregation.
Withdrawal from the RPS may be a way to prevent Jacksonville from becoming a suburb of Medford, said Schatz. Rogue Valley cities had entered the process to coordinate growth over the next 50 years.
"I think we made the right decision," said Schatz. "But there are people of a different mind set that development is good."
Schatz said she leaves the council with misgivings because work still remains. She cited management and funding for the city's recent takeover of historic building from Jackson County and efforts to build a larger community center as challenges for future councils.
For now she is looking forward to a little bit of time away from civic duties. Later she may seek appointment to the city's Parks, Recreation and Visitor Services Committee. She's served as council liaison and chair for that committee.
"I'm sure that Donna will remain active in some work with the seniors or whatever," said Mathern. "We won't see her just sitting in the easy chair."
Tony Boom is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.