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Four Ashland candidates campaign together

Four candidates for Ashland city offices have joined to campaign together, asking voters to think of them as a like-minded slate for fiscal responsibility and small business survival during the pandemic.

They are focused on issues of social equity and ridding the city of budget deficits, said Councilwoman Julie Akins, who is running for the seat being vacated by Mayor John Stromberg.

She and three new council candidates — Gina DuQuenne, Andrew Card and Shaun Moran — gathered petition signatures for their candidacy Wednesday in front of Ashland Food Co-op.

Twenty-five signatures are needed to get on the ballot. The deadline for filing is Aug. 5.

Akins’ seat is being sought by Moran, a member of the city Budget Committee, as well as ACES, Ashland Citizens for Economic Sustainability.

In her run for mayor, Akins faces Councilor Tonya Graham, director of Geos Institute, and Jonathan Merripen, owner of Black Sheep Pub & Restaurant.

In addition to Moran, Parks Commissioner Julian Bell and Kelly Marcotulli also seek the council seat held by Akins.

“If I win and Julie loses, I would be disappointed,” Moran says, “but you have to plan for the worst and hope for the best. In five years on the Budget Committee, I’ve been a strong voice on the importance of good fiscal citizenship.”

Moran says the big issue is that Ashland is not an affordable place to live, “and that’s a real threat to Ashland’s future. I have three small children, and I want them to be able to afford to live here. What’s the point of making affordable housing when it’s not affordable to live here?

“It comes down to sensible spending. It’s $1,200 a year for a house to be connected — and the city put that in over the last 10 years. It’s not sustainable.”

“Prioritizing the budget is No. 1,” DuQuenne said. “There are so many issues, like living wages, tourism, social justice, but if we don’t follow the money, we can’t get anything done. We need to crack that open and be transparent.”

The gang of four all voiced support for increased city aid for small business, which is being crushed by COVID-19, but DuQuenne noted 80% of the city budget is dedicated spending, so flexibility lies in the remaining 20%.

“If tourism comes back, and we don’t have restaurants and retail stores, then what’s it all about? How do they put food on the table and have homes?”

Card, owner of Oberon’s and Masala restaurants in Ashland, wants to see the local economy expand beyond tourism to living-wage jobs in sustainable light manufacturing on the outskirts of town, enabling opportunities for graduates of Southern Oregon University.

Card says he seeks to boost the winery industry here, in one of the top wine-growing regions of the world, as well as other regional wonders — Crater Lake, Rogue River, golfing and “the incredible dining scene of Ashland, the gem of Southern Oregon” — and all this will boost tourism for Oregon Shakespeare Festival, he says.

Card, who is opposed by Budget Committee Chair Paula Hyatt, favors aid for struggling businesses, “as we get the budget under control, but we must make sure we don’t keep increasing fees to cover labor costs, which are out of control.”

Akins says she believes she can win because her opponent voted to put an $8 million bond on the May ballot, which included seismic upgrades for City Hall and repairs for the Community Center and Pioneer Hall, which Akins opposed.

Akins also opposed a three-year contract with a two-year severance package to make Adam Hanks the full-time City Administrator, which was withdrawn Tuesday.

Ashland’s City Administrator position will convert Jan. 1, 2021, to a City Manager role when the city switches from a strong mayor to a city manager form of government.

“We can’t be doing that kind of thing,” says Akins. “These are scary times. ... We have to be more careful. The city has lost a lot of revenue during this pandemic, but the current administration thinks it’s OK to keep spending. It’s not.”

John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune Ashland{ } mayor candidate Julie Akins and city council candidates Gina DuQuenne, Andrew Card and Shaun Moran gather petition signatures Wednesday for their candidacies at the Ashland Food Co-op.