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Ashland residents vote to change city charter

Ashland residents voted Tuesday to amend the city charter and create a city manager position.

According to unofficial results, the measure was approved by a 64.51% majority, or 5,232 votes, with 35.49%, or 2,878, voting against the change.

The position of city manager and the changes to the city charter will be formally established January 2021.

Under the new arrangement, the position of city administrator is eliminated and the new role is created, which gives the city manager the highest level of administrative authority of city government, and takes some power away from the mayor.

Previously, the mayor had the authority to hire and fire department heads with confirmation by the City Council, but the city manager will now hold that responsibility.

Some residents, including Bill Heimann, who was the chief petitioner for the change, said they preferred the new form of government because it makes the hiring process less political since a pool of professionals hire the position and isn’t elected.

Heimann is a member of the Citizens for a Better Government PAC group.

Residents against the charter change argued that having an elected official makes these decisions more democratic.

According to Susan T. Wilson from the Ashland Citizens for Economic Sustainability, a manager-council form of government is the most ethical form because of its transparency.

The city manager will not have authority over the mayor, the council or other officers, who are appointed by and report directly to the council, such as the city attorney, according to the Voters’ Pamphlet.

Aside from the hiring process, the city manager will also administer all city ordinances, resolutions, franchise, leases, contracts and city utilities; prepare the budget and work with the council to develop city policies.

City Councilor Stephen Jensen was a strong proponent of the change, saying the city administrator already had these responsibilities, but the new position gives the manager more authority and makes the roles in city government clearer.

He said it adds a layer of accountability that was missing before, adding that it is a long time coming.

Jensen said Ashland has developed into a more complicated town than it was 100 years ago when the current format was adopted, particularly with the infrastructure, finance, bonding, state laws, human resource requirements and DEQ requirements.

“It’s a challenge,” Jensen said. “To think that we can elect a local volunteer to be the CEO of such an operation is folly.”

Ashland Parks and Recreation Department will continue to operate as a separate body of administration, according to the Voters’ Pamphlet.

Contact Ashland Tidings freelance reporter Caitlin Fowlkes at caitlin.fowlkes@gmail.com.

Ashland residents voted to amend the city charter to create a city manager position Tuesday.