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Medford is off to a new start

Local editorial

New leadership brings an opportunity to deal with challenges that accompany growth

When Gary Wheeler is sworn in today as Medford's mayor, there's bound to be a lot of talk about what could come during the next four years.

It's not all in Wheeler's hands, of course: Medford is organized to give more real power to the City Council and the city manager than to the mayor, a ceremonial leader. Still, the mayor can hold sway. Lindsay Berryman, who had the job for the past six years, certainly did with her vision of a more vibrant downtown.

Now Medford has opportunity to grow again with the change in leadership. As Wheeler moves into Berryman's office, a few topics deserve to rise to the top of his to-do list:

Traffic and livability. Medford, home today to nearly twice as many people as it was 25 years ago, will face these issues whether city leaders want it to or not. Wheeler made quality of life a thrust of his campaign; now it should become a thrust of the administration. The city should reach forward to tackle traffic and livability questions rather than waiting for its hand to be forced.

MURA. The downtown urban renewal agency's role became news last year in a debate over whether its focus should remain downtown or reach more into neighborhoods. That raised what we see as the bigger issue: whether city leaders and agency leaders communicate well. The council shouldn't run MURA, but it also shouldn't be surprised by what's going on with urban renewal. Wheeler, who has been involved with the agency's board for more than a dozen years, ought to put effort into ensuring there's active communication.

The sports park. Medford's 132-acre park along Highway 99 at the south end of town is under construction. But what we've bought so far includes little more than green space. After voters in November rejected a bond to pay for developing the park, the city headed back to the drawing board to find financing. Meanwhile, hotel and motel owners who agreed to higher room taxes are perhaps years away from getting the benefits they expected from teams coming to Medford. Ditto, of course, for the sports fans who'd like to use the park.

Regional planning. No city is an island, as issues such as the debate over whether the region can accommodate a Home Depot store in Phoenix attest. As Medford focuses on livability, it also ought to acknowledge its role as a regional center ' the place where most of the population lives and where the infrastructure stands a chance of dealing with big developments.

Medford's development is at an important point. The city has seen many positives in recent years, but growth will continue to bring challenges.

The city needs thoughtful, active leadership, an approach that can start in the mayor's office.