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Ashland City Administrator Karns will retire

The city of Ashland and City Administrator John Karns have agreed to cut his one-year contract short.

Karns was Ashland fire chief until 2016, when he took over the administrator job after the City Council ousted then-administrator Dave Kanner. Karns will officially step down on March 31, according to a press release issued by the city Friday afternoon. Mayor John Stromberg, reached by phone Friday, said Karns’ retirement is a mutual agreement that is allowed in his current contract. The council in December approved extending Karns’ contract through the end of this year or until a successor is hired.

“It’s about catering to John’s needs and ours,” Stromberg said, adding that Karns will be visiting his son in India — describing it as a trip “he has been putting off for a while.”

Calls to Karns for comment were not immediately returned Friday.

Adam Hanks, who has been assistant city administrator for a year, will temporarily fill in as city administrator. Stromberg said because the city is in a middle of “several important projects,” having an interim administrator with institutional knowledge will move things forward.

“If you have somebody from out of town filling in, they won’t do anything — they’ll just be placeholder because they don’t understand the city’s issues,” Stromberg said.

Hanks, who started working for the city in 1991, has his hands on a number of on-going projects in the city. When he takes on the administrator job, Hanks said, some responsibility will be moved around.

“But I’m comfortable with it,” Hanks said. “Most things, if not everything, on the staff side involves team efforts — it’s not a one-man project.”

The City Council in February approved spending $24,500 to conduct a national search for a new city administrator. According to a timeline presented to the council, the process should take 12 to 16 weeks.

Karns was recruited to leave California to become Ashland fire chief in 2009. When the council voted to dismiss Kanner in 2016, Karns was asked to temporarily step up.

Then-Councilor Greg Lemhouse, who recently resigned to avoid potential conflicts working in the private sector and to spend more time with his family, praised Karns for his expertise, ability and dedication.

“I hope someday people will realize the amount of effort (Karns) has to step forward and say, ‘I’ll do whatever the city needs,’” Lemhouse said in a December meeting. “His attitude throughout has been perfect for our situation.”

Stromberg also speaks highly of Karns as a city administrator.

“Interim positions often try to keep the status quo,” he said at another meeting. “John (Karns) has been proactive in tackling problems head-on.”

Stromberg said he expects a successor to begin work sometime in June 2018.

Reach reporter Tran Nguyen at 541-776-4485 or tnguyen@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on twitter @nguyenntrann.

John Karns [Photo by Graham Lewis]