Keep democracy in our town
Democracy has certain elements that must be in place in order to rightly function.
A free society governed by its people is a social contract; for it to work, there must be agreed upon rules which are followed.
What happened at the special meeting of the Ashland City Council on June 29, in my view, was a hostile take over of our town’s democracy.
The special meeting was called in order to inform council and the public about the process to appoint an interim city manager. This is of utmost importance as this person is the day-to-day operations manager for our city. The voters of Ashland chose this new form of governance, and it must be honored.
That part of the meeting was relatively smooth.
Then councilor Paula Hyatt moved and received majority agreement to discuss the so called “Code of Conduct,” which council adopted.
Through her motion, a majority of councilors, four, conspired to wrestle control of the meeting from the presiding officer (the mayor) and then held a “mock trial” without notice. While it may seem more like shenanigans of the disgruntled, it’s far more important than that.
When there is no order, you do not have a functioning body to carry out the will of the people.
The Ashland Municipal code states:
Section 2 04 040
“The presiding officer shall be responsible for ensuring order and decorum is maintained. Comments and disagreements should be addressed to the topic at hand and avoid negative personal remarks.
“Attendees and speakers are required to strictly abide by the directions of the presiding officer. Behavior or actions that are unreasonably loud or disruptive shall be cause for removal from Council meetings.
“Failure to abide by the presiding officers instructions constitutes disruption of a lawful assembly as provided in ORS 166 1025 c. Disruptive behavior includes ... refusing to obey an order of the presiding officer.
“The presiding officer may set time limits on agenda items.”
Virtually every section of the Ashland Municipal Code in terms of public meetings was violated on the 29th.
As the presiding officer, the ability to ensure order and decorum were stripped from me as councilors spoke out of order, refused to pause remarks when asked and spoke negative personal remarks about myself and two councilors for up to 30 minutes per person.
The councilors: Steve Jensen, Tonya Graham and Paula Hyatt did not abide by the directions of the presiding officer, and the behavior of Steve Jensen warranted his removal from the meeting as he refused to yield the floor on more than one occasion to the presiding officer.
These councilors failed to abide by the presiding officers instructions in direct violation of the Oregon Revised Statute.
There is order for a reason. Getting the people’s work done as opposed to grinding your personal ax is a key difference between democracy and authoritarian regimes.
Hijacking meetings to accuse the lawfully elected mayor of the infraction of not being nice enough to staff does not supersede the municipal code.
I stand accused by Councilors Jensen, Hyatt, Graham and Stefani Seffinger of creating a “toxic work place” for staff at city hall.
The unvarnished truth is that I’m unable to create any sort of work place for staff — good or bad. I haven’t been in the building due to the pandemic in more than a year and have little to no contact with most staff members.
And no one who actually works at City Hall has said I’ve created toxicity.
What these councilors really take umbrage with is my questioning of their unbridled spending in a pandemic with a structural deficit and raising our fees and utility bills to pay for their caviar dreams.
But, I have every right to question expenditures, as does every councilor and resident of Ashland who are affected by the city’s financial decisions. In fact, it’s my sworn duty.
As to staff departures: go back and look at the history. When a new mayor is elected top staff often leave. It happened to the last mayor, too.
We have a plan in place, and life will go on and so will democracy in Ashland if I have anything to do with it.
Speaking of which, the council chambers will be back open July 19 for a study session and July 20 for a regular council business meeting. I’d love to see you in person again holding us all accountable. That’s your part and I thank you for it.