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Team Ashland celebrates graduation

The city’s first Team Ashland graduated from the program Thursday with a colorful review of the past four months.

Team Ashland is an new city program in which selected Ashland residents learn about each city department, local issues and city committees.

City Administrator John Karns suggested the idea for the program based on a similar program he was involved with in Beverly Hills, California, called Team Beverly Hills.

“As the first program, everything went very well,” Karns said. “I don’t know if we could have asked for a better group. They’re very diverse, and there was a good representation of the community as a whole: men, women, age, backgrounds, interests.”

Karns said the various city departments took their presentations seriously, almost as if competing for who could do the best job. He also said that there wasn’t any noticeable difference between the Team Ashland and Team Beverly Hills programs except for the selection process. Although originally intended to include 19 selected applicants, it was decided that all 21 Ashland applicants would participate.

“We had at least an equal inventory of services in Ashland as they (Beverly Hills) did,” Karns said. “What I thought was interesting was that this group was more engaged, they really wanted to learn more about the inner workings of the city.”

Through a series of city department presentations, Team Members not only learned about how the city works, but tried out some of the equipment departments use, such as taser guns and the Jaws of Life.

Police Chief Tighe O’Meara said his department was excited to be able to show off some of the training programs they have.

“It was a lot of fun to highlight some of the hands-on training we do, like the 'shoot, don’t shoot' training, the taser training, letting everybody play with the police cars and motorcycles,” O’Meara said. “I think everyone had a really good time, but one of the things I wanted to really make sure the Team Ashland students took in was that the vast majority of what we do is very low speed, uninteresting stuff, engaging people in a respectful and dignified manor, being as compassionate as possible ... .”

Scott Fleury, deputy director of public works, said his department gave two presentations to the team. The first focused on the daily operations and the second on engineering, with tours of the city's waste water treatment plant, Reeder Reservoir and Hostler dam.

“The best part was the citizen interaction, having them involved and able to see the day-to-day basis, what public works does and provides,” Fleury said. “Not everyone understands the nuances and everything that goes into running public works for the city.”

Team member Rick Sparks said he was set straight on some assumptions he’d previously had about the city.

“I learned so many things about the city that I had no idea we did or were responsible for, I instantly had some assumptions I’d had corrected,” Sparks said. “My opinion was ill-informed and to have the knowledge makes me better able to talk to other citizens about what’s going on and correct some assumptions. It also made me realize that some of the issues we have are complicated and that there aren’t straight-forward answers, although some people will say there are.”

Any Ashland resident may apply for the 2018 Team Ashland. Applications will be available next summer.

Team member Sandy Theis, along with Karns, has applied for a smaller, less active version of the program to be implemented as an OLLI (Osher Lifelong Learning Institute) class at Southern Oregon University in 2018.

“I think it’s really important that as many members of the community understand the city as possible so that way they can be intelligent, well-educated ambassadors telling the rest of the community why the city operates the way it does,” O’Meara said.

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