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Women may shake up the all-male Medford City Council

The all-male Medford City Council could be in for a change after five women filed their candidacy papers for the Nov. 8 election.

"I've looked at the City Council, and I don't see a lot of people who look like me," said Michelle Blum Atkinson. "It only makes sense that women represent the city, too."

The five women are among 16 council candidates — 14 for council seats and two for mayor — who will appear on the November ballot.

Blum Atkinson, a 31-year-old mother of two daughters and former part owner of Procare Software, will run against three other women in Ward 4, which represents the southeast portion of Medford. Andrea Jablonski, Ruth Moncus and Kim Wallan are also candidates, along with downtown businessman George Schroeder. Jablonski, 54, and Moncus, 45, are Latinas and were profiled in a previous Mail Tribune article.

Kay (Kristen) Brooks is running in Ward 3, representing southwest Medford. Her opponents are Don Libby, Curt Turner and Pastor Chad McComas, who's known for his support of a tiny house village for the homeless.

Karen Blair, who died in 2014, was the most recent female councilor in Medford.

Three of the council races are wide open because the incumbents — Chris Corcoran, Daniel Bunn and Eli Matthews — decided not to run again.

The female candidates all say it's important to have women represented on the council but don't think it's necessarily the most important reason to run.

Tuesday at 5 p.m. was the deadline to have approved candidacy papers submitted to the city.

Blum Atkinson said she got a taste for politics when she supported the library levy in 2014 and after viewing several council meetings over the years.

Endorsed by former Commissioner John Rachor and Democratic Senate candidate Tonia Moro, Blum Atkinson said she thinks it's important to have a female perspective on the council. For example, she cited a relatively small concern of hers that she thinks needs to be addressed.

"I would take my little girl to Bear Creek Park, and she needed to go to the bathroom," she said. "She asks me afterwards, 'Where's the soap?' There was no soap."

Blum Atkinson found out later that soap dispensers were not available because she was told the transients would make a mess.

On the one hand, Blum Atkinson said, she sees this as a bigger issue about finding more ways to help the homeless. But she also wants to find some solution to providing soap in park bathrooms, particularly for young children learning about hygiene.

She said she has three main issues that she wants the council to address: keeping the Greenway clean and safe, addressing the housing shortage in Medford and developing alternative methods of transportation that rely on technology, including the rapidly developing field of self-driving vehicles that can be summoned through a smartphone.

Wallan, a 55-year-old retired lawyer, said she didn't jump into the race because she is a woman, and noted that when she served on the Medford School Board for four years, it had five women and two men.

"I don't see this through a prism of identity," she said. "I see myself as more of a supporter of small government and helping my community to be better. I see myself in many other ways than I see myself as a female."

Wallan, who teaches online classes for Windward Community College in Hawaii, said she sees the importance of women being engaged in the community and having leadership reflect the community.

"I guess being a female does bring a different perspective," she said.

She said she views a position on the council similarly to her position on the School Board in providing leadership to the community.

In the midst of a teachers' strike, Wallan said, the School Board was not divided.

"We had seven people who put their own personal politics aside," she said. "We were unified."

Brooks, a 30-year-old mother with a 5-year-old daughter, said she welcomes other women who want to be on the council.

"It's quite exciting," she said. "It's been quite a while since we've had someone on the council that's a female. It would be wonderful to get people on it who are people of color as well."

As excited as she is about more women representation, Brooks said it's far down her list of important issues affecting the community.

Involved with Oregon Action, United Oregon and the Jackson County Homeless Taskforce, Brooks said homelessness and the lack of affordable housing are two issues that she would focus on.

She said she welcomes McComas, who also is on the Homeless Taskforce, as a fellow candidate in her ward, which suffers from a high rate of poverty.

"We're in a crisis state," she said. "If we're both running, then I know the housing issue is covered."

Brooks lives in the Beatty-Manzanita neighborhood just north of downtown. She said the departure of auto dealerships to the outskirts of town has been a problem for the community in leaving behind empty lots and storefronts.

"It definitely contributes to the neglected look of the downtown," she said.

Jablonski, 54, who has worked for Asante Health System and now runs her own business, said she thinks women would bring a different perspective to the council. In an earlier story, she said she cares about small business and is concerned that more needs to be done for downtown Medford.

As vice president of the Medford Senior Center board, Jablonski also said she is particularly concerned about senior issues.

Moncus, 45, has been a mother for almost 18 years, homeschooling her two teenage boys. In an earlier story, she said her strong feeling that marijuana grows in the city should be banned convinced her to enter the race. She also expressed concerns about what she saw as a growing gang presence and noted she had seen the negative impact gangs could have on a community when she lived in California.

Editor's note: Other candidates for the council will be covered in a story appearing in Thursday's Mail Tribune.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com. Follow him on www.twitter.com/reporterdm.



Michelle Blum Atkinson
Andrea Jablonski