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Public can voice vision at meeting

Citizens can help develop a sustainable vision for Ashland this week during a community meeting on economy, energy, environment and governance.

The Dialogue with Ashland Officials will take place from 6 to 9 p.m. Thursday at the Ashland Elks Lodge, 255 E. Main St. A donation of $5 to $10 is suggested to help cover costs.

The meeting will follow an informal world café format similar to the Dialogue with Mayoral and Council Candidates forums hosted by the Sustainable Community Leaders Dialogue group in October, organizer Joseph McCormick said.

After a half-hour potluck with food provided by local businesses, people will gather in small groups to discuss where Ashland is, and where Ashland should be, to "talk across divides and really find win-win possibilities for Ashland," McCormick said.

Although the meeting is oriented toward identifying solutions, there is no need for participants to agree, he said.

"We're not pushing for agreement. There will be no phony consensus," McCormick said. "The real goal is to set a format."

Ideally, the meeting will bring together different sides of the community and encourage respect and communication between groups that generally don't communicate, he said.

"Out of that, you get cooperation," McCormick said. "It's not about Kumbaya. It's not even about agreement. The word is understanding. We say, 'Please put your judgment aside for three hours.'"

The meeting is an attempt to create a paradigm shift, in which the public has another way to communicate with the city government other than council meetings, organizer Jim McGinnis said.

The mayor, city councilors and department heads have been invited to the meeting, but, unlike the candidate forums, there will be no fishbowl format of officials to avoid violating public meeting rules, McGinnis said.

As of press time, four councilors had told the Tidings that they did not plan to attend the meeting.

Mayor John Stromberg plans to attend and said it's important "that a group in the community has taken the initiative to engage the city government," instead of waiting for the city government to engage the community.

"I see this as an opportunity for the government to not be the only one setting the agenda," he said.

Sustainability is going to be essential to Ashland's future, and this meeting could help bring together those working on sustainability issues as well as other community groups, he said.

"Times are changing. We need to be flexible and creative and innovative," Stromberg said. "I see this as the start of a genuine and meaningful dialogue on sustainability."

It's time for a new political story to replace Ashland's old story of groups that blame each other and can't get along, McCormick said.

"This is a time in our culture where hope is a big deal," he said. "We're looking for people who are willing to have a vision for Ashland."

He hopes all parts of the city — including the business community, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Southern Oregon University, the school district and environmental groups — will be represented at the meeting.

"We want a microcosm of Ashland," McCormick said. "If you're homeless, you're welcome. If you run the hospital in Ashland, you're welcome. If you're on the school board, you're welcome. Whoever you are, you're welcome."

Organizers would like to continue the format and hold a community meeting every 90 days to discuss the city's most pressing issues, McCormick said.

"If we can create a space in Ashland where people can hear each other," he said, "if we can simply create that space, that will be a service."

For more information about the meeting, contact McGinnis at 488-5938.

Kira Rubenthaler can be reached at krubenthaler@dailytidings.com or 482-3456 ext. 225.