The biggest spender in the Ashland City Council races is a political action committee attempting to unseat Eric Navickas.

The biggest spender in the Ashland City Council races is a political action committee attempting to unseat Eric Navickas.

The League of Ashland Voters has raised $5,918.30 and spent $5,550.15, according to a Tuesday check of state campaign spending records.

The PAC is paying for ads that critical of Navickas' council record. The PAC has endorsed Navickas' opponent, Ashland Planning Commissioner Michael Morris, along with Southern Oregon University business professor Dennis Slattery, who is running against semi-retired attorney and judge pro tem Bruce Harrell. The League of Ashland Voters also has endorsed Councilman David Chapman, who is running unopposed.

Navickas said the League of Ashland Voters is twisting the facts. "It's been frustrating seeing them using distortions rather than facts," Navickas said.

For example, an ad paid for by the league said Navickas voted in favor of removing $57,000 from the economic development section of grants funded by the city's hotel tax.

Navickas said he voted to shift city money from the Ashland Chamber of Commerce's economic development work to help fund a city staff position devoted to economic development.

During the 2008 election season, two PACs — Democracy Together and Democracy Support — were operating to counter the efforts of the League of Ashland Voters. Those two PACs have been silent this year.

Democracy Together currently has a zero balance, while Democracy Support has a deficit of $5,445.60 because it has not paid back loans, according to state records.

Navickas said the Democracy Together and Democracy Support PACs approached him, but he asked them not to get involved in the election on his behalf this year.

"Candidates need to stand up for themselves," Navickas said. "It's hurting our democratic process. We're seeing well-funded groups hurting our community. With the League of Ashland Voters, we're dealing with some of the wealthiest developers. They're running attack ads against me. It's a way of undermining our voluntary spending limit."

Morris said he doesn't believe that PACs should be operating in Ashland because then the playing field is not level.

Bill Heimann, the director of the League of Ashland Voters and a former Ashland Citizens' Budget Committee member, said he believes his PAC has a legitimate role to play in Ashland politics.

He said he helped found the PAC in 2008 in response to the formation of Democracy Together and Democracy Support, two PACs that attacked Greg Lemhouse during his campaign to unseat Cate Hartzell from the City Council.

The League of Ashland Voters supported Lemhouse's winning effort and City Councilman Russ Silbiger's successful re-election bid. It endorsed historic preservationist George Kramer for mayor, but he lost.

Heimann said he saw that Democracy Together and Democracy Support were still registered with the state, so he decided to continue his League of Ashland Voters PAC this year.

"If there are no PACs next election, we will go away," he said. "I do not like this idea of PACs."

Heimann said his PAC supports the business community — as he believes all Ashlanders should do — but its main goal is to support candidates who can work for the good of the whole community.

"We're looking for a balanced candidate who can look beyond their ideology and vote on what's good for Ashland in the long view," Heimann said. "One of the problems that was occurring on the City Council in the past was they were not operating as a team. They were voting individually and often, it seemed, because they didn't like each other."

Heimann said voters can judge whether his PAC helped improve Ashland by looking at the current City Council, which he said works better than it did in the past.

Heimann said he sees nothing wrong in his PAC's efforts to research Navickas' voting record and run ads highlighting key votes. He said candidates in Ashland are reluctant to attack each other's records. He said that helps set a positive tone, but it can also leave voters without important information.

While Navickas often votes alone or in the minority on the City Council, Heimann said Morris has shown he can work with others.

This year, major contributors to the League of Ashland Voters include Karen DeBoer at $1,000, Jefferson Straub at $500, Heimann himself at $500, Jeffrey Rinkoff at $300 and Ashland Citizens' Budget Committee member Lynn Thompson at $250.

Lithia Motors Inc. Chief Executive Officer Sidney DeBoer gave $500 directly to Morris' campaign.

Heimann said he doesn't think members of the business community who oppose Navickas are donating to the League of Ashland Voters as a way to help Morris circumvent Ashland's voluntary campaign spending limit of $3,213.25, which all candidates have vowed to uphold this year.

"How is it wrong for businesses to be involved? They used to not be — and they should. They have a big stake," Heimann said.

Morris, who broke the limit by spending $8,462 in the 2004 election in an unsuccessful bid to unseat Hartzell, said he had to counter a lot of false information that was coming out about him then. This year, he said, he doesn't believe that only one segment in town, such as business interests, is backing his campaign.

Vickie Aldous is a reporter for the Ashland Daily Tidings. Reach her at 541-479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.