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Candidates converge at forum in Ashland

Ashland voters got a fast-paced primer on the views of a dozen candidates during a Wednesday forum sponsored by the Rogue Valley League of Women Voters and Southern Oregon University Women's Resource Center.

The forum at the Ashland Civic Center on East Main Street included candidates for Ashland mayor, Ashland City Council, the Ashland Parks and Recreation Commission and Jackson County commissioner.

Mayor John Stromberg said Ashland should keep working on its economic development strategy and attract innovative companies that pay high wages to town.

During his term, Stromberg said the city has moved forward on the creation of a resource center to serve homeless people and others in need, adopted a plan to deal with long-term water system problems and accomplished many other tasks.

Stromberg said he has also worked to establish clear sets of facts on controversial issues so that councilors and residents can deal with problems more effectively.

Challenger and past Mayor Alan DeBoer said he favors fiscal responsibility and would do a good job leading projects, as he did when the city was in the midst of major infrastructure and building projects during his term from 2001 to 2004. DeBoer did not seek reelection then.

DeBoer said residents need to be encouraged to shop locally and the town's livability will help attract companies that offer good paying jobs.

He said he is not satisfied with the city's current water system plan and believes Ashland should connect to Medford's water system to provide additional water.

The second mayoral challenger, Keith Michael Erickson, who will be known as "Biome" on the ballot, said Ashland needs to reclaim itself from banking and corporate interests that he said are ruining the world.

He opposes an Ashland ordinance against camping in public places, which causes homeless people to be ticketed by police for sleeping.

Erickson said residents should vote directly on major issues facing the town and he opposes a plan to redesign the downtown Plaza.

Ashland City Councilor Carol Voisin is working to hang onto her position on the council, but faces challenger Jackie Agee.

Agee said she would bring her experience and skills from working in the business and nonprofit worlds to the council. She said she is a moderate and believes Voisin, a self-identified progressive, represents only a fraction of the community.

"I have a strong desire to represent all Ashland citizens," Agee said.

Agee said criminal and abusive behavior downtown and on the Plaza is harming tourism and causing residents to feel unsafe. She said law enforcement, social services, business and city government must work together to address that problem.

Voisin said Ashland needs to help homeless people and provide affordable workforce housing so that workers and families can afford to live in town.

She said the city government has a law to pay a living wage to its employees, which now stands at $13.41 per hour, and local businesses should be encouraged to do the same.

For City Council position three, Councilor Greg Lemhouse is seeking re-election and faces challenger Keith Haxton.

Lemhouse said he supports continued implementation of the city's economic development plan. He wants to work with state representative for an e-commerce zone in Ashland with tax incentives that would promote Internet businesses.

Good jobs with good pay will allow families with children to live in Ashland, Lemhouse said.

He said Ashland and the Jackson County Housing Authority completed a 60-unit affordable housing development.

Haxton said Lemhouse has not done enough to support affordable housing.

"Affordable housing would allow people who work here and go to school here to live here," Haxton said.

Haxton said Ashland should promote renewable energy so that residents are protected from rising utility bills.

City Councilor Russ Silbiger is vacating position five. Regina Ayars, Bruce Harrell and Rich Rosenthal are competing for that seat.

Rosenthal was out of town, but prepared a statement saying that he wants to enhance Ashland's quality of life, promote economic opportunities, work to ensure a safe and vibrant downtown and promote green business practices.

Harrell said he wants Ashland to restore free bus service, as it had years ago. That would cause bus ridership to skyrocket, lessening parking, traffic and pollution problems.

He said climate change is the biggest issue facing the city, and it must prepare by being fiscally strong and more independent when it comes to food, water and energy.

Harrell opposes a "road diet" that is reducing car lanes on North Main Street as it comes into town to make more room for bicycles and pedestrians.

Ayars said she supports the road diet, which she thinks will improve safety for cyclists, pedestrians and drivers.

Ayars wants to attract high-tech businesses to town, continue economic development work and invest in local people, products and services. She said more affordable housing in town would lessen traffic problems and increase enrollment in Ashland schools.

Ashland Parks and Recreation Commissioner JoAnne Eggers is not seeking re-election, leaving the field open to Vicki Tripoli and Vanston Shaw.

Tripoli was out of town and unable to attend the forum.

Shaw said he favored the commission's decision last year to loosen restrictions on dogs in parks and he wants the parks system to have a dedicated, protected budget.

He said the Oak Knoll Public Golf Course, which covers 80 to 90 percent of its costs through revenues, is an asset. He said the golf course is no different than other services provided by the parks department, such as tennis courts and ball fields, and he sees no problem with the department covering part of its costs.

Candidates for Jackson County Commission position two also attended the forum.

Democrat Jeff Scroggin said he is not partisan and supports repairs to rail lines. That will give businesses a means to transport goods while lessening traffic on I-5.

Scroggin said Jackson County needs to look to the future and diversify its economy with e-commerce, tourism and other industries.

He wants to promote business start-ups that pay family wage jobs.

Scroggin and fellow candidate, Republican Doug Breidenthal, said there are too many unknowns at this point for them to state a position on whether they support a county ban on genetically modified crops.

Breidenthal said the county needs to work to get biomass out of the woods. That would lower wildfire risk while creating jobs and biomass energy, boosting county revenues and reducing reliance on fossil fuels.

He said he also supports family values.

Breidenthal said he has a wealth of business and public sector experience and he accused Scroggin of not coming up with his own ideas.

Scroggin said he is happy to gather ideas from residents, businesses, county staff and others.

"Part of leadership is recognizing a good idea when I see it," Scroggin said.

Reporter Vickie Aldous of the Ashland Daily Tidings can be reached at 541-479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.