ASHLAND — City Council members took steps this week to bring in a new councilor and keep the city's current interim administrator longer than originally anticipated.

Members voted unanimously to extend Interim City Administrator John Karns' contract until the end of 2017. Councilor Stefani Seffinger made the motion, saying he’s doing a great job. Councilor Rich Rosenthal seconded the motion. “I’ve noticed a high degree of professionalism. He’s changed the culture in a short period of time in a positive way. I think this is a no-brainer,” he said.

Karns was appointed after previous city Administrator Dave Kanner resigned at the request of Mayor John Stromberg in December. David Shepherd is serving as interim fire chief while Karns serves as city administrator.

The council also voted to approve a process for filling council position No. 6. It has been vacant since Pam Marsh left the council to serve in the Oregon House of Representatives in January.

Councilors voted Tuesday, in line with recommendations suggested at a study session Monday, to narrow the 12-person applicant pool to five candidates agreed upon by the council. They must fill the empty seat by March 1. They agreed to take a vote on the finalists on Feb. 21. “You still have a totally open process, you can make a motion for different options, that’s your decision,” said city Recorder/Registrar Barbara Christensen of the process.

“I can’t wait to end this process that’s really uncomfortable and awkward,” said Rosenthal in agreeing with Councilor Dennis Slattery that the pool was full of qualified citizens and narrowing it down is difficult. “I agree with Councilor Slattery in thanking all the applicants. It's difficult to have to tell people 'no.' ”

Seffinger agreed. “I have enjoyed getting to know the applicants, and that’s valuable to me,” she said.

The five named as finalists are Traci Darrow, Shaun Moran, Tonya Graham, Gina DuQuenne and Louise Shawkat.

Darrow currently serves as the executive director of the Ashland Food Bank; Moran is a former Chase Bank executive; Graham is the current executive director of the environmental think tank Geos Institute; DuQuenne is an executive with Neuman Hotel Group and the founder of the Southern Oregon Pride Parade; and Shawkat serves on the 10 X 20 group that is seeking to ensure Ashland gets 10 percent of its local energy from clean, renewable sources by 2020.

Stromberg had urged councilors and the public to consider and encourage women in the community to step forward to apply for the position, as had former Councilor Carol Voisin, who initially applied herself but later withdrew her application. All the finalists all are women, except for Moran.

— Email Ashland freelance writer Julie Akins at julieanneakins@gmail.com and follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/@julieakins.