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DeBoer's Ashland tenure was filled with city building projects

DeBoer's Ashland tenure was filled with city building projects BY VICKIE ALDOUS

ASHLAND ' When the sound of a chainsaw broke the quiet in front of the Ashland library early one morning a few months into his term, Mayor Alan DeBoer was there to face the ire of protesters and sleepy neighbors.

Today, DeBoer calls his handling of the timing of the controversial cutting of a ginkgo tree in front of the library one of my bigger mistakes.

But mistake or not, the incident early in DeBoer's term presaged his style during the next four years: to keep a close eye on city construction projects, take responsibility for decisions and face citizens openly.

He hands over leadership of the city tonight to John Morrison, a City Council member since 2001.

DeBoer had been mayor only six months in June 2001 when the ginkgo was scheduled to come down to make way for the voter-approved Ashland library expansion.

— Then-City Administrator Greg Scoles had wanted to cut down the tree at 6 a.m., before protesters could disrupt the work and possibly endanger themselves and crews, while DeBoer had argued for 7 a.m., he said.

They compromised to arrive at a 6:30 a.m. start time. The problem with that decision, DeBoer said, was that was half an hour before the city's noise ordinance allowed the action.

The same day, DeBoer noticed a tree about to be cut that he thought was supposed to be preserved. A check of the plans revealed the tree was to be left on site, and it was saved.

It's always good to be on site if you're in a leadership role, DeBoer said.

DeBoer's oversight of what Morrison half-jokingly termed the largest construction binge in city history led fellow Ashland City Council members to present him with a hard hat and bright orange worker's safety vest at his last council meeting Dec. 21.

In addition to the library expansion, the city renovated Siskiyou Boulevard and Ashland Street, built a new fire station and remodeled the Hillah Temple during his term.

DeBoer owns Town & Country Chevrolet Oldsmobile just outside Ashland, and his business experience, combined with service for a number of community groups, appealed to many. But others worried the council would tilt too far in favor of business under his leadership. Even today, DeBoer has detractors.

Environmental activist Eric Navickas said DeBoer's term will not stand out in Ashland history.

Overall, he didn't get a lot accomplished, said Navickas. I can't say he did anything horrible when he was in office. I can't see he did a lot for the business community.

But Jim Teece, president and chief executive officer of Project A, a software company, said DeBoer stayed in close contact with the business community and continues to serve on the Ashland Chamber of Commerce's Economic Sustainability Committee. The committee works to support and attract nonpolluting companies that offer living-wage jobs.

Economic sustainability is the key to the future of Ashland, Teece said. It's a great place to live, but if we can't figure out how to make it a great place to work and raise a family, we're missing a leg on the stool.

Citizens who came to speak before the council found a receptive listener in DeBoer ' something that wasn't always the case with former Mayor Cathy Shaw, some have said.

I thought Alan did a much better job in how he treated people, said Russ Silbiger, who had occasional public clashes with Shaw. Before, people's motives were questioned and (Shaw) would cut people off. One thing Alan certainly did differently was allowing the audience to speak. ... It was a big change.

DeBoer, who did not seek re-election, said he doesn't know if he will run for public office again but does plan to continue working on issues such as affordable housing.

In any elected office, there's an opportunity for ego and feeling like you have power. But I think of it like volunteering for the YMCA board, he said. I look at those elected positions as nothing more than volunteering.

Vickie Aldous is a reporter for the Ashland Daily Tidings. Reach her at 482-3456.