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Pot issue resonates with Medford council candidates

An exodus of incumbents from the Medford City Council and the controversy over medical marijuana has helped attract 10 candidates for three open seats in the Nov. 4 election.

Also, the current City Council’s stance in opposition to medical marijuana dispensaries has drawn out a few candidates who want the city to have a more welcoming attitude toward pot.

City Recorder Glenda Wilson said the City Council and articles by the local media have helped generate interest from residents, making this the largest turnout of candidates in recent memory.

“I think not having the incumbents is huge,” she said.

Councilors Bob Strosser and John Michaels, representing Ward 4 and Ward 3 respectively, both recently announced they won’t seek re-election. The late Karen Blair seat in Ward 2 is also open. Incumbent Tim Jackle is running unopposed in Ward 1.

The council had hoped that more women candidates would file to run in the election, particularly after the loss of Karen Blair, who died June 11 from lung cancer.

WARD 2

Running for Blair's seat is Marlene Nuckols, Clay Bearnson and Tim D’Alessandro.

Nuckols, 43, is the owner of MaryJane’s Basement and Attic, which formerly dispensed medical marijuana until the city shut the business down after declaring a moratorium on pot. Nuckols has reopened a portion of her store that sells clothing, jewelry and other items but no marijuana products.

Apart from her difference of opinion with the council over medical marijuana, Nuckols said she generally likes the direction the city is headed.

“I like the fact, especially in my ward, that they are fixing the streets and installing sidewalks,” she said.

Clay Bearnson has said in the past he supports allowing dispensaries in the city, and he, like Nuckols, has a medical marijuana card.

Bearnson, owner of the Gypsy Blues Bar, is  chairman of the Medford Arts Commission and is a member of the Medford Parking Commission. He ran against Councilor Eli Matthews in 2012. He could not immediately be reached for comment Tuesday.

Tim D’Alessandro, 56, said he doesn’t support lifting the moratorium on marijuana in Medford.

“I don’t think the council should move forward with loosening of those regulations,” he said.

D’Alessandro said he would wait until the federal government changes federal law before considering that the city possibly soften its stance.

An operations manager at Rogue Valley Transportation District, D'Alessandro said he has participated in many local organizations, including local Little League.

From what he can see, D’Alessandro thinks the City Council has been on the right track.

“There are a lot of good people on the council,” he said.

He said he would like to put more effort into making the local economy, and particularly the downtown economy, thrive. 

WARD 4

This ward has attracted the most candidates and the only other woman candidate, Donna Lane. The others are George Schroeder, Andrew Watson and Michael Zarosinski. None supports softening the city’s stance on marijuana. 

Lane, 51, has been an associate professor of business at Southern Oregon University and faculty adviser for the SOU Business Club.

“My big concern is what’s happening to the businesses downtown,” she said.

Originally from Texas, Lane went to school at SOU and is big on education and big on business.

Lane said that after reviewing the minutes over the past year, she thinks the council made the right decision in creating a moratorium on pot dispensaries.

“I’m in favor of that,” she said.

She said she’s still trying to figure out what’s going on with Hawthorne Park and the homeless issue.

From her conversations with locals, she said people really care about the community locally.

“It really is about how can I use my assets and experience and give back to the community,” she said. 

Schroeder, a 61-year-old businessman who has been on the Parking Commission since 1998, said he has a high regard for the City Council and the city manager’s office.

He said he has worked with the city on many issues over the years, including as a member of the Medford Urban Renewal Agency budget committee.

Schroeder said he’s in agreement with the council on most issues, citing the city’s strong stance in supporting law enforcement.

“I know the town pretty well, and I’m a team player," he said. “That’s not to say I’m a pushover. That’s not to say I’d vote for everything they’d vote for.”

Schroeder said he does have one issue that’s of concern to him that he’d like the city to get behind.

He’d like the city to have an aquatics center, possibly in Hawthorne Park, which would be across the street from the senior center.

“Aquatics is very therapeutic for seniors,” he said. 

Zarosinski, a 42-year-old civil engineer who has been on the Planning Commission for three years, said his primary interest is stimulating the economy of Medford.

“I don’t have anything I’m trying to fix or anything that has made me mad,” he said. “I think the council has done a pretty good job.”

Zarosinski said his work on the Planning Commission has brought him face to face with controversial issues.

He said he has viewed firsthand how the council has dealt with issues such as the dangerous dog ordinance that was resolved by including local residents in the process.

On medical marijuana, Zarosinski said he would like the federal government to create a pharmacy system to deal with its distribution rather than the systems being set up in various states.

“From the city standpoint, we will have to have some kind of tax to mitigate the impacts, including to law enforcement,” he said.

Zarosinski said his major concern on the City Council will be to stimulate the local economy.

Andrew Watson could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

WARD 3

Ward 3's candidates are Travis Hardey, Don Libby and Kevin Stine.

Stine, 28, said he doesn’t think the city gets out in front of issues but rather reacts to situations after they develop.

“We don’t see the issue blossom,” he said.

The city didn’t plan well to deal with the closing of Hawthorne pool in Hawthorne Park, and the potential closing of Jackson pool, he said.

In his travels around west Medford, Stine said the biggest issue for local residents is livability, including dealing with boarded-up houses and a transient population.

He said he would like to see more done about the homeless issue in Medford. “What we’re doing now is not doing anything,” he said.

Stine said he doesn’t think the city has taken the right stance on the marijuana issue.

“If you’re a state’s rights advocate, you follow state law,” he said.

The federal government has given notice that as long as state laws regarding marijuana are followed it will not be prosecuting.

Hardey supports the city’s stance on marijuana, though he does acknowledge that society appears to be undergoing a social experiment with the drug. “It may work, and it may not,” he said.

Hardey, 35, said that he hopes his four young children find enough opportunities to want to stay in Medford.

“There’s not a lot of draw to bring people back,” he said. “We’ve got a huge brain drain. If it doesn’t change, we’re going to be a ghost town.”

Medford continues to grow but hasn’t attracted sufficient resources to offset higher crime rates and some of the other problems affecting urban areas, Hardey said. The area hasn’t fully evolved from a logging economy either, he said.

The city needs to attract more businesses that have professional-level jobs. Hardey said he would like to see more family businesses started in the area. He currently works at Hardey Engineering in Medford, started by his father in 1981.

Libby, 31, who works for a local security company, said he was motivated to run because of issues on which he didn’t agree with the city.

He said the City Council should have asked voters to approve spending money on new police and fire stations rather than adding onto everyone’s utility bill.

“I think really big projects like that should be passed on to the voters,” he said.

Libby said he doesn’t like the way the city threatens local property owners with eminent domain to accomplish a project. He also doesn’t support the city’s ban on medical marijuana dispensaries.

“I believe recreational use of marijuana should be legal,” he said.

Libby said he is also prepared to address concerns related to charges that were cleared against him that he was impersonating a police officer last year. The case went to trial but a jury found him not guilty. Charges were dropped against his brother, Jason Libby.

“I know that might be an uphill battle for me,” he said. “I’m prepared for that.”

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com. Follow on Twitter at @reporterdm.

Donna Lane
Don Libby