Three men compete to be Ashland's mayor
Ashland Mayor John Stromberg is seeking a second term in office, but he faces challenges from former Mayor Alan DeBoer and political newcomer Keith Michael Erickson, who is listed as "Biome" on the ballot.
"I want to complete major initiatives that we've launched in my first term," said Stromberg, an organization and management consultant.
Projects include thinning in the Ashland watershed to reduce wildfire risk, upgrading the city's water and sewer systems and planting trees along Bear Creek to cool its water and offset the impact of the warm treated effluent that Ashland empties into the creek.
He said he supports the City Council's multi-pronged approach to ensure a clean and steady water supply by building a second water treatment plant, another storage tank and a line to bring water from Medford to Ashland for use during emergencies.
He said an old plan to complete the Talent-Ashland-Phoenix water line would put Ashlanders at the mercy of the Medford Water Commission, which charges Central Point and Eagle Point residents higher water rates than Medford residents.
Stromberg said he would like Ashland to switch to self-insurance of its employees, rather than paying an outside health insurance company.
He noted several key leadership positions in town will change with retirements in the next couple of years, including the Oregon Shakespeare Festival's executive director and Ashland schools' superintendent.
"I want to preserve continuity at a time of a lot of change for the community," Stromberg said.
While Ashland's mayor is most often seen in public presiding over City Council meetings, he said there is much work to be done behind the scenes.
In nearly four years in office, Stromberg said he has strengthened ties with the governor, state legislators, the Ashland Chamber of Commerce and many other individuals and organizations.
Given continuing economic uncertainties, he said Ashland needs to keep working on efforts to conserve and produce energy, grow local food, capture rainwater for watering and carry out its economic development plan.
He said too many residents cannot afford food, rent and medical insurance.
Stromberg said Ashland must do what it can to rein in public employee retirement system costs, which are throttling local governments.
Though small, he said Ashland must learn to deal effectively with large corporations, including ones that have begun to plant genetically modified crops in the Rogue Valley and Bay Area-headquartered Recology Ashland Sanitary Service, which wants to dramatically raise garbage rates in town.
DeBoer said he believes Ashland is veering off course on several fronts.
He opposes a "road diet" project on North Main Street as it comes into town that will reduce the number of car lanes to make more room for bicyclists and pedestrians.
"One lane in each direction seems like a really bad decision for the city," he said.
DeBoer said he doesn't believe the road can handle the volume of traffic it gets with fewer car lanes, and getting out of town could become more difficult if a disaster hits.
DeBoer — who was mayor for four years beginning in 2001 and didn't seek a second term — said he would like to see Ashland connect to Medford's water supply and complete the Talent-Ashland-Phoenix water line that stops now in Talent.
Ashland needs to improve its downtown and strengthen its economy, said DeBoer, the co-owner of the Town & Country Chevrolet dealership on Ashland's northern outskirts.
He said the downtown is dirty and a project recently approved by the City Council to redesign and reconstruct the Plaza needs to be finished quickly.
Businesses, the city government and residents need to work together, DeBoer said.
"We need to really help businesses improve the looks of the downtown so we have jobs. We need to get our citizens to shop in Ashland and support our people," he said.
DeBoer said he has experience in helping Ashland's homeless after he helped fund and found a homelessness and social services center on Ashland Street in the mid 2000s.
The city of Ashland is exploring starting up another homelessness day-use center. It could potentially pay to lease a site where at least one nonprofit could provide services.
"I'm willing to partner with anyone who will help with the problem," DeBoer said. "The more the merrier. People need help, but the government is horrible at providing that help. There's too much bureaucracy, studies, overhead and not getting it to the final source."
DeBoer, who has experience on a number of boards for local nonprofit groups and the Ashland School District, said he would like to enlist residents and churches to do even more volunteer work in town.
He said he is good at listening to ideas from others.
"I would like voters to choose me and four years from now, I think they will feel they were well-represented and heard," DeBoer said.
Erickson said he is running for mayor because he wants to take a stand against political apathy and disempowerment.
Erickson said he has harmed his own credibility by accidently writing his nickname, Biome, in the space on elections paperwork where candidates are supposed to list the name they want to appear on the ballot.
But he is forging ahead, visiting more than 3,000 households as he canvasses neighborhoods and distributes campaign literature.
Erickson, a production foreman at Pickled Planet organic sauerkraut and pickle company in Ashland, said he wants to help construct a sustainable local economy based on stewardship of natural resources and cottage industries.
He said city government should invest in essential services, cut unnecessary spending and use the savings to boost local organic food and renewable energy production.
"This is the foundation of real security," Erickson said.
He said tourists could be drawn to Ashland from all over the world.
"They can come to Ashland and spend money and witness the transition into a local sustainable economy based on harmony between us and the natural environment," Erickson said. "They can take that back to their hometowns and apply the things they witnessed in Ashland to their communities."
He said the city government can help homeless and impoverished people by supporting drug and alcohol rehabilitation facilities. People could then get employment in cottage industries in Ashland.
Erickson said Ashland should designate two sites where homeless people could legally sleep without being ticketed for illegal camping.
He said Ashland voters should be allowed to vote directly on major issues because the majority opinion is often disregarded by the City Council.
"The local political scene can be reclaimed for the benefit of the common good," Erickson said.
Reach Ashland Daily Tidings reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-479-8199 or firstname.lastname@example.org.