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Team Ashland learns the ropes of city operations

"You are stepping across a threshold that has needed to be crossed from the community’s side into the world of city government,” Mayor John Stromberg said to 21 fresh Team Ashland members.

Members of the city’s first Team Ashland met at Council Chambers Thursday to discuss their new roles. Team Ashland is a selective organization in which Ashland residents may apply annually to learn about each city department, local issues and community commissions.

The mission is simply to educate citizens and provide an open dialogue with local government and to examine the inner workings of the city. The goal is to encourage graduated members who have an in-depth knowledge of the city to apply to city commissions and committees when applicable.

“It is our job as citizens to hold the government responsible and be informed,” Greg Lemhouse, city council member, said. “In my eight years, it’s been the same people, who do great work, but we need new people, new ideas and a deeper pool to be able to draw from.”

Originally slotted for 19 members, due to circumstance, two additional members were added to the group last minute. The team is comprised of: Willow Denon, Carolyn Anderson, Rick Sparks, Donna Butchino, Sandy Theis, Joseph Curl, James McGinnis, Daniel Dawson, Julie O’Dwyer, Lisa Roberts, Chris Seidholz, Emily Trivette, Mark Haneberg, Edward Finklea, Rick Robinson, Susan Aaronson, Jennifer Bacon, Amy Stewart, Amy Titus, Stephen Magie and Michael Ortegon.

Each member gave a brief description of how they landed in Ashland and why they chose to apply to the team. The group is diverse in age and citizenship, some members born and raised in the town, and one settling into their fourth month here.

Stories of how each individual came to call this quaint town home varied, but mostly revolved around two premises. Many members researched heavily before moving to Ashland to raise their children, and an even greater number of members are true vagabonds who felt “home” after experiencing the town for even a short stay. Yes, “home” is the word they used to express their love of the town. Regardless of how each member came to call Ashland home, they all agreed that the city has a special “magic” about it that draws in people like a magnet.

Donna Butchino, team member, said she applied because she previously was extremely politically involved. She was the first female and youngest mayor of Eagle Point at the age of 26, but left politics to raise a family.

“I’m retired and have time on my hands, and I’m ready to get involved in the community again,” Butchino said.

Multiple members implied that they were spurred to take political action, starting at the local level, after the presidential election.

“Nowadays it seems like we’re in a severe drought of morality and people of character in the highest levels of government, and so the way to fix things, is locally,” Michael Ortegon, team member, said.

John Karns, interim city administrator and previous fire chief, implanted the program from a near-identical program he worked with in Beverly Hills, California.

“John came to the city of Ashland, not to be your fire chief, but to start this program, and he’s been trying for eight years,” Stromberg concluded jokingly in his address to the team.

The team will meet for nine different sessions from August until November, ending with a graduation ceremony in December. Each session will encompass a separate city department including presentations, demonstrations and hands-on activities.

“How many of you have torn a door off a car with the Jaws of Life?” Karns asked. “Well those of you who haven’t, will get a chance.” He emphasized that the program wasn’t just an academic endeavor, but it should be fun for participants.

The first session is at the public works department, where members will learn about and use equipment used to maintain the city.

Each fall will embrace a new team, and the only requirements for applicants is that they are a current Ashland citizen.

—Email Ashland freelance writer Caitlin Fowlkes at Caitlin.fowlkes@gmail.com.