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Phoenix council appoints two new members

Two new members have been appointed to Phoenix City Council following resignations by two sitting members who cited disunity and mistrust as reasons for leaving.

Al Muelhoefer was appointed to fill out the term that expires Dec. 31 previously held by Terry Baker. Andrew Barron was named to complete the term previously held by Jim Snyder and will serve until Dec. 31, 2022.

Candidates who applied for the positions cited the need to work together as among the major challenges facing the council at the July 20 meeting where the appointments were made.

“The biggest challenges facing this council (are) trust, working together, having common goals, being a unified representative of the citizens of this town,” Muelhoefer said during interviews. He said he’d like to see more town halls held for citizens to voice their concerns. He helped organize one with police Chief Derek Bowker in early June.

“The energy of the council should be put toward moving forward, to listening to the people. What we need right now is unification being open-minded, open-hearted, not to be bogged down in politics or procedures,” said candidate Michael Shunk, a former councilor, who was not selected. He said all but one vote on tough issues during 2017-18 was unanimous because everyone joined together in the middle.

Councilors in May voted to hold a session facilitated by the League of Oregon Cities to build communication and teamwork and to look at their roles. That will take place Aug. 12, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Councilors have also been critical of Mayor Chris Luz, citing the way he conducts city meetings, treatment of citizens and council members, and his actions in the larger community as a representative of the city.

“Our City Council has increasingly become an unhappy and unpleasant place to spend time,” Snyder wrote in his letter of resignation that was effective July 6. “I leave it to the remaining council members to hopefully find their way out of this dark place we are in, where they can once again focus exclusively on developing policies that take care of the people’s business.”

Snyder was appointed to the council in 2015 and won election to a seat in November 2018.

Baker resigned May 5. He said there needed to be an atmosphere of mutual respect on the council, and with Mayor Chris Luz that was not there. Baker has announced his candidacy for the mayor’s seat. He was elected to the body in November 2015.

Muelhoefer served as chair of the Phoenix Urban Renewal Agency board of directors from 2014 to 2018. He is a retired U.S. Air Force colonel and was executive director of the Main Street program in Troy, Ohio, which worked on downtown revitalization.

Barron served in the Marine Corps for five years and is a code compliance specialist with the city of Ashland. He has a bachelor’s degree in criminology from Southern Oregon University.

Shunk, a high school counselor, served on the body in 2017 and 2018 following appointment. He lost an election bid for a seat in November 2018.

“Distrust is bubbling to the surface. We need more community in our community,” said Damon Brown, who also applied for the vacancies. Brown is a nurse with Asante Physician Partners.

Muelhoefer told the council he was seeking the short-term appointment. He was unanimously approved by councilors Robert Crawford, Angie Vermillion, Stuart Warren and Sarah Westover.

Luz cast a tie-breaking vote against Shunk’s appointment after Warren and Westover voted for and Vermillion and Crawford voted against the candidate. Barron was then unanimously elected to the longer term.

Three four-year council seats and the mayor’s two-year position will be on the Nov. 3 ballot. Warren and Westover’s terms expire Dec. 31. Brain Buckner, Krista Peterson and Karen Sharder have filed for the at-large council seats. Baker has filed for the mayor’s spot. Nominating petitions and applications need be submitted to City Hall by Aug. 17.

Reach Ashland freelance writer Tony Boom at tboomwriter@gmail.com.

Phoenix City Hall