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Ashland will establish equality panel

A Race and Social Equity Commission will be created in Ashland following a unanimous vote Jan. 5 by members of Ashland City Council.

The proposal came from new Mayor Julie Akins during the council’s first meeting since her election in November.

Council members unanimously voted to have Adam Hanks, Ashland’s pro tem city manager, and City Attorney David Lohman initiate development of the commission based on Akins’ proposal. The council will need to approve an ordinance that would establishes the commission.

“We need, as a community, to look at what we’re doing and get a baseline of the experiences of everyone who lives in this community to make sure it’s equitable and inclusive,” said Akins, who became mayor after serving on the council since 2018.

A commission would support an existing city declaration of commitment to social equity and racial justice, Hanks wrote in a staff report.

As proposed by Akins, the commission’s goal would be to adopt anti-racist measures and draft a concrete plan to accomplish equity in the city. It would work to identify racism, homophobia, sexism and classism that have fostered inequalities, challenges and deficiencies in Ashland — then recommend changes based on those findings.

A seven-member commission with backgrounds in race and social equity work is proposed, to be appointed by the mayor. There would be a primary staff liaison from the police department. The commission would meet monthly and report to the council quarterly, or more frequently if needed. An annual report would also be prepared.

“While it may be unclear how long the stated goal of supporting total equity in Ashland may take or if the goal can indeed be achieved,” Akins wrote in her proposal, “we find the work worthy of its mission, and progress likely as a result of undertaking it.”

One of Akins’ campaign priorities was to support equity, diversity and inclusion through improved hiring processes and policing practices. In the Jackson County Voters’ Pamphlet, she said the city needed to go beyond crime fighting to include more of a focus on prevention and care.

New city councilors Paula Hyatt, Shaun Moran and Gina DuQuenne also participated in their first meeting after being elected in November. At the virtual meeting, Councilor Tonya Graham, who lost the November mayoral election to Akins, was elected chair.

The incoming mayor and three councilors were sworn in at a study session held the previous day.

The council directed Hanks to pursue the immediate placement of an interim fire chief through engagement with the Western States Fire Chiefs Association or similarly qualified entity. Ashland fire Chief David Sheppard resigned effective Nov. 1, and acting Chief Ralph Sartain has been leading the department.

A recent attempt to fill the vacancy through an agreement with Jackson County Fire District No. 3 did not succeed. Akins, who was on the City Council, voted against establishing an intergovernmental agreement with the district that would have led to the appointment of Devon Brown from Klamath Falls as chief. Brown subsequently withdrew as a candidate although City Council had approved the agreement 5-1.

Using the fire chiefs association would result in the quickest “placement of a highly qualified interim fire chief,” Hanks wrote in a staff recommendation that presented three other options. He said that a placement could be made in three to six weeks and recommended a minimum of six months employment.

Councilors also directed staff to develop a wildfire town hall in February. Akins had proposed holding a virtual live town hall to discuss the Sept. 8 Almeda fire Jan. 14. Instead, councilors voted to have the town hall take place during February.

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

Ashland City Hall Andy Atkinson / Daily Tidings