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9 candidates file for 3 council seats

The slate for the city of Ashland election on Nov. 8 is largely set. The filing deadline was Friday, Aug. 12. 

City Recorder Barbara Christensen says the petitions for councilor and four initiatives on the ballot have been sent to Jackson County for verification as part of the final process. “I will most likely hear by the end of the week. It’s taking the county between three and five days to verify signatures,” said Christensen. Twenty signatures are required for candidates on the ballot, according to Christensen, but most have more. 

“I’ve had it happen where people didn’t have enough signatures and it was too late to get more,” said Christensen. However, all of the people running for public office this time had in excess of 30 signatures on their petitions. 

There are four seats up on the council, including the mayor’s office. Whoever is elected will serve a four-year term. Mayor John Stromberg is running for re-election and is being challenged by Councilor Carol Voison, who is giving up her council seat to run. Biome Erickson and John Greene are also running for mayor. 

For council position one, there are four candidates: Dennis Slattery, Jon Cates, Debra Neiswander and Doug Burns. 

None are currently on the council, although Slattery has previously served on the council as well as the budget committee. He currently lists his occupation as an Associate Professor at Southern Oregon University. “Ashland is a special place, we have some important issues and I’d like to be part of the solution going forward: improving family wage jobs, affordable housing, climate change, diversity and inclusion-we have more we can do to make Ashland a more welcoming place,” said Slattery of his decision to run again for office. He said Ashland has a great robust discussion going on at all times. “Ashland is the most democratic place on Earth, everyone has a voice and they use it.” 

Jon Cates lists no prior government experience. He reports on his application that his current employer is Oak Hill Bed and Breakfast and says he is in the process of receiving his Bachelor of Fine Arts in Acting degree from SOU. 

Debra Neiswander, a local homeless advocate with a background in aviation, also has no specific history of elected public service, but assists in community meals and Ashland Culture of Peace Commission projects. 

Also in the running for position one on the council is Doug Burns, who lists himself as retired. Prior to that, his application says, he was the general manager of the Oregon Cabaret Theatre. He states that he received his MBA from Harvard and served as a fiscal officer for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. “I’ve always been an activist,” said Burns. “The Bernie campaign was a big push. I’ve been watching what’s happening in the area and I don’t like what’s happening with the working families,students and the older people. The housing situation seems to be untenable.” 

He says his slogan will be “feel the Burns.” “I think the people need somebody on their side. There’s so much happening in Ashland. There’s outside money, wealthy retirees, hedge funds, people buying up agricultural land. I’ve been known to get things done. I want to give it one more shot.” 

Burns says he has been wanting to get involved since the Plaza redesign. “I didn’t like the way it handled and I didn’t like the results. I think it was one of Ashland’s major assets into an eyesore. I personally think the Chamber of Commerce has way too much influence over the government. The city gives them $400,000 dollars a year. I think the money could be used to actually help the residents of Ashland instead of going to fund the Chamber of Commerce huge salaries.” 

Council position three has three people running. Incumbent Greg Lemhouse seeks re-election. Councilor Lemhouse was first elected to the council in 2008. “I really enjoyed serving the community the last eight years," he said. "There are a lot of exciting things left to do.” He says among the things he’d like to accomplish if reelected is improving collaboration between service organizations. “There are a lot of well-meaning people in Ashland who are very generous and there are well-meaning organizations. But we don’t always collaborate and we overlap services and compete for resources.” Lemhouse says with better collaboration, “We’ll be able to get more done.” He is also concerned with retaining current businesses and expanding them. “The reality is, because there’s not a lot of land here and it’s expensive, we have to continue to focus on our existing businesses here in town.” The current councilor also says it’s important for Ashland to work on issues of inclusion. “In Ashland we get into a bubble and think we’re above social issues of race and discrimination. We need to confront those issues in a robust way.” In addition to serving on the council, Lemhouse holds an executive level position with Goodwill. Prior to that he was a Medford police lieutenant, a position he resigned in January 2012 shortly after being placed on administrative leave, city administrators said at the time. Lemhouse denied he was put on leave and said he left to start his own security business. 

He is challenged by academic coach Theo White and E-Myth CEO Martin Kamenski. White says his primary goal would be greater connection between government and citizens. “Kindness could be a value, transparency would be really important and sustainability — we’re moving in that direction.” He believes in limited government and officials who do what they say. “They say they want affordable housing but I don’t believe it. We work but we can’t afford a half-a-million dollar house. We don’t have a trust fund.” He says the lack of affordable housing is chasing away families. White also says while Ashland officials discuss diversity, he is unconvinced the sentiment is sincere. “When they say want diversity — do they really want Republicans coming to town?” 

Kamenski says his decision to run for council was precipitated by the verbal racial assaults against against two black women who work for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. “It lead me to believe there’s more we can do to be more inclusive, not only to the 10 percent of people of color, but other groups who are also marginalized, such as the homeless, the aging population, students, people with different physical abilities.” He says the way to do that is through listening to those affected and acting on the ideas which come from that. “I would want to open up more forums and more opportunities to hear the stories form people who have been forgotten. The solutions that ought to happen would be coming out of the stories (of people affected) and should happen more naturally. They’ll tell you what they need.” 

Kamenski is also wanting to be part of the council to work on attracting and retaining people in 30 to 50 year age range who have families and a higher level of professional career development. To do that, he says Ashland needs to be inclusive, create opportunities for businesses to purchase land at more reasonable rates to build. “I think there’s more Ashland can do to be more attractive to more businesses. Becoming a more inclusive community will certainly help. Make land a little more accessible so businesses can build and create jobs.” He says residents need jobs which can support families and they also need to be able to buy a house. “ We need more affordable housing.” 

Council position five also has an incumbent in Rich Rosenthal running for re-election. His was elected to his first term in 2012 after spending 10 years on the Ashland Parks & Recreation Commission. He is currently Medford Parks and Recreation assistant director. As to why he is seeking a second term, Rosenthal says he has two primary reasons: “Most importantly, I’d like to see the current climate and energy action plan process through to an implementation phase. I’m also passionate about keeping Ashland a safe and vibrant place to live, work and visit.” Rosenthal additionally says he has been told he is a voice of reason on the council. “I take pride in being a pragmatic, objective councilor.” 

Jacob Mari, running against Rosenthal for council, is a newcomer to politics but remains hopeful about his chances to effect change. "It’s an opportunity to make a difference. There’s a general feel of disconnect. I feel I can step in and be that person who can wade into the muck and mire of local government and come out with answers.” Mari says he has a clear agenda. “I want to take a look at climate change which is at a tipping point. We’re seeing larger storms and more frequent flooding. That’s only going to get worse. I would like to see more infrastructure to adapt and address larger environmental issues. I’d also like to figure out the larger northwest grid for renewable energy.” His list includes improving roads, addressing the homelessness situation in Ashland and creating better connection between Southern Oregon University and the city. “If we created a better sense of connection we might have better retention of students after they graduate rather than having them move away.” 

The Tidings contacted all candidates and offered an opportunity to comment about their platforms and reasons for running. Those not quoted did not respond in time to be included in this story. An article about the race for mayor appeared in the Aug. 4 Tidings. It's online at www.dailytidings.com.

Email Ashland freelance writer Julie Akins at akinsj@sou.edu and follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/@julieakins.