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Ashland council calls for 3 parks commission candidates

file photo. Ashland city hall.

ASHLAND — Ashland City Council settled Monday on three for the candidates that the Ashland Parks and Recreation Commission must submit for the post left vacant by former Commissioner Mike Gardiner, whose resignation took effect the day of the study session.

Discussion about the appointment process raised questions of transparency, legal obligation and trust between the two elected bodies. Upping the ante from past practice, three names will be forwarded to City Council for consideration.

City Manager Joe Lessard said the City Council controls the process for selecting a qualified person to fill the position within 60 days per Article 3 of the city charter. The appointee’s term of office takes effect immediately and lasts until a successor is chosen in the next election.

Parks Director Michael Black said the Ashland Parks and Recreation Commission formally requested through the city manager to be involved in the process, which the commission had asked mirror former procedure, offering a single name at the end of its applicant solicitation and vetting process. The City Council could then approve or deny the submission, he said.

“We had a good process last time we did this,” APRC Chair Rick Landt said. “I believe that if we use a similar process this time, we will end up with similar results.”

A replacement was last called for in late 2012, when Gardiner was appointed after Rich Rosenthal transitioned from the commission to City Council. Gardiner was first elected to APRC in 2002, re-elected in 2006, lost in 2010, filled the vacancy, and was re-elected twice after, totaling 18 years in elected public service, according to his resignation letter.

“[Parks commissioners are familiar] with the roles and responsibilities of what a new parks commissioner would be stepping into, and they’re uniquely qualified to make a determination on that,” Black said. “It should be the widest net possible, and as the council dictates, and we should be using all processes and avenues available to us to get the word out.”

Councilor Tonya Graham, advocating for a procedural repeat, said, “It’s appropriate for the Ashland Parks and Recreation Commission to vet the candidate and bring the candidate forward to the City Council.”

Graham encouraged a wide reach into “parts of our community that maybe are not typically represented in local government,” in the interest of yielding a diverse applicant pool — supported by the city in outreach, she said.

Councilor Shaun Moran questioned the transparency of the former process and a method he said would “squeak out” a candidate whose thinking aligns with Parks representatives instead of “a diverse sampling” of Ashland opinions.

“The whole idea of diversity of thought and diversity of opinions and different people — to me, if the Parks Department is vetting that whole process, then we won’t see that as a council, that will stop with you,” Moran said, addressing the commission. “Rather than the council, who’s the ultimate arbiter of who decides who we vote for, to do that work.”

Moran called for a “hybrid process,” with the council first reviewing all applicants before making a decision.

Graham said commissioners have “knowledge and understanding” of the work in front of APRC worthy of leveraging through the appointment process, and added that APRC is guided by the same requirements as the City Council for open meetings and processes.

“If somebody was put forward that was a disastrous fit, we have the ability to stop that, but I think we should have faith and trust in our peer organization and allow them to take the lead in identifying the best qualified candidate,” Graham said.

Councilor Stefani Seffinger, echoing the comments, said an “element of respect” was necessary to cool a tense relationship with Parks by honoring its ability to lead the process, with the backstop of a final council decision.

“We do already have two applications, as soon as word got out that there was an opening, which shows the great, robust enthusiasm for engagement that we are lucky to experience here in Ashland,” Mayor Julie Akins said.

Councilor Gina DuQuenne made a motion to direct Parks and city staff to conduct advertising, and for all applicants, including Parks’ recommendation, to pass through the city recorder and City Council for interview and appointment.

“I would like to see an open process and the ability to see all applicants, so that throwing the broad net and being able to pull from different areas and pull so that all applicants are in front of us, we can vet them, we can review them, along with Parks’ recommendations also,” DuQuenne said. “I believe that it’s a more open and transparent process.”

The motion failed 4-2, with councilors Graham, Hyatt, Seffinger and Stephen Jensen voting no.

Seffinger said the issue raised motives related to councilors’ stances on transitioning the elected commission to a city department, and speculated an interest in finding someone amenable to such a change by lengthening the list under council review.

Councilor Paula Hyatt proposed the commission advance two ranked candidates as a “mid-ground” compromise, repeating trust in APRC to put forward “a quality recommendation.”

“I would like to show the respect to the parks commission that we value their opinion, their ability to vet, and ask that they send two candidates forward,” Hyatt said. “That way, we meet the desire of council to have a little bit more review, and at the same time, we show respect for the expertise of an elected body that would be working with this individual.”

Moran requested an amendment to the motion that three ranked candidates be brought to the council.

Landt said overall, the discussion implied distrust in APRC’s ability to “do the job” right the first time and identify one strong candidate the council could confirm or reject.

Lessard said considering only one candidate could be viewed as an improper “delegation of authority,” and encouraged the council to review multiple people in the interest of fulfilling its obligation under the charter.

Hyatt made a motion directing staff to work with Parks to develop a pool of candidates that APRC will vet, then forward its top three ranked candidates to the City Council for consideration and appointment. The motion passed unanimously.

Reach reporter Allayana Darrow at adarrow@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4497.