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Council Corner: Lessons learned: My first year

This month I am completing my first year as an Ashland city councilor. As I reflect back on the year I am reminded of lessons and experiences that have led me to this point in my life and how they reflect the decisions I have made while on the council.

One of the first lessons I remember learning in childhood was that making one choice can mean not being able to have another choice. In my case, taking dancing lessons meant not getting a bicycle. From this experience I learned to think carefully about what would be most important in the long run to my goals and the importance of setting priorities for the resources that are available. This experience has helped me to see the importance of making good choices in how we use our city budget.

I have also learned a great deal from my time on the Park Commission about the importance of prioritizing in deciding which capital improvement projects were most important to the community. My service on the forest lands commission in assisting in updating the Ashland Forest Plan has helped me see the importance of preventive actions such as funding the Ashland Forest Resiliency Stewardship Project to help reduce wildfire threat and improve forest health, which has an enormous impact on the safety of our city from wildfire threat and to protecting our water supply.

When I was 10, I attended an anthropology class at UCLA. The lecture was about the work a missionary group did with a village in Africa to improve the infant mortality rate in the village, and indeed this goal was achieved. However, when the village was revisited years later to see how things had progressed, the tribe was facing extinction from starvation.The land simply could not support the increased population, an unintended consequence of an act that was well meant.

In making decisions on issues facing our city I often think of these lessons and try to see how the future will be affected by the present, looking at unintended consequences of decisions and difficult choices. This past year, issues regarding water use, energy use, the Normal neighborhood master plan, how to deal with downtown behavior, our carbon footprint, affordable housing and fire prevention have all come before our council in a variety of forms.

I have been impressed with the consideration our commissions and City Council have given to looking at the long-term consequences of these issues. Though I don’t always agree with all the decisions made, I do agree with most of them, and I respect the thought that goes into those decisions I do not agree with. I know there is often more than one right answer, especially in Ashland, with the diversity of public opinion and the knowledge and interest level of the citizenry.

One of the issues I am most concerned about in the coming year is how to find the funding to address behavior issues, safety and sanitation concerns, which have increased as our transient population has grown. While our city has great compassion to help those in need and continues to provide a wide range of programs to help our citizens, we also need to realize there are long-term consequences to ignoring concerns regarding aggressive and threatening behavior and illegal activities that degrade our city and threaten our economic stability and the quality of life.

The City Council is currently working on a number of ways to see these concerns addressed. Several of the options being considered have financial implications. A number of other cities, including Boulder and Fort Collins, Colo.; Santa Cruz, Calif.; and Eugene have found that increased law enforcement presence is one of the most important aspects to providing a safe environment. Other programs that some cities are using include ambassador programs, resource workers and programs to exchange day work for assistance.

Initiating any of these programs will require funding and making some difficult choices regarding our budget priorities. I believe this is a very important issue to most of our citizens and I hope we look wisely at the choices we make.

Stef Seffinger is a member of the Ashland City Council.