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Council Corner: A New Year’s resolution

I believe that the people are sovereign under our Constitution. At all levels of government, elected officials should intentionally find ways to confer power to the people. Power of the people comes in key roles, as in voters, taxpayers, commissioners, consumers and advocates. My resolution is to encourage citizen involvement and to find ways that they can demonstrate effectively their power in city government.

Let’s begin with some candor. With two, maybe three minutes to speak at a city meeting, citizens feel it is unrealistic to expect them to present their opinions on complex issues given the public time allotted them. Once they do speak, there is little evidence that their elected officials even hear them. There is no dialogue or discussion or debate in study sessions or council business meetings.

From their view, no wonder hundreds of citizens on different issues keep repeating the mantras — “the decision is made by the Council before citizens even speak” or “it’s already a done deal”.

The speaking restrictions are by design. They are embedded in the Ashland Municipal Code under “Council Rules” (2.04) that were written and adopted by the council. Citizens or councilors can always change these rules.

Despite the limitation of council rules, Ashland citizens are actually stepping up, thinking out of the box, and using their power to address issues that will be affecting them in the very near future. Kudos to the organizers, because on Jan. 27, from 6:30-8:30 p.m. in the Gresham Room of the Ashland Public Library, they will discuss the city's plan for the East Nevada Street bridge. Citizens, city staff and East Nevada neighbors will discuss the topic from several directions.

Personally and as a councilor, I applaud their efforts to get in front of the decision-making processes of the city and the council. Their efforts will be an important step toward sharing information on an issue by engaging in discussion and dialogue. I plan to be there to listen “actively” to citizen concerns, their questions and their ideas. Citizens are claiming and using their power.

Besides supporting citizens with their public forums, I want the council to consider two committees that are in the Ashland Municipal Code. These committees are defined and described in 2.27 of the code. Neither committee has been implemented. It sort of looks as though the council doesn’t have to follow its own rules.

Nancy Parker, an Ashland citizen, brought this ordinance to the council’s attention. The council needs to look at a Committee for Citizen Involvement that monitors and evaluates city progress in the area of citizen involvement. Then there is the Citizen’s Planning Advisory Committee, which reviews pertinent planning-related issues and makes recommendations to the Planning Commission and City Council. Let’s think about replacing the function of ad hoc committees with a CPAC.

The Citizen’s Planning Advisory Committee is different from other committees. It has two representatives from eight neighborhood areas in the city. Every area of the city has two representatives on a committee that makes recommendations to the council on planning and other issues. These two committees confer power to the people.

Finally, we need a citizen’s debate on an issue created by the council and city administration. At the Jan. 19 council meeting at 7 p.m., the council will decide whether to change the city recorder’s status from being elected to being appointed by the city administrator. The change requires a vote of the citizens. This debate is not about Barbara Christensen, who has served us so well for over two decades. It is about citizens having an independent city recorder/treasurer who is accountable to citizens and not to a bureaucracy. Learn what the pros and cons are. Join the debate before it goes to a vote.

The people are sovereign under our Constitution. My resolution is to see that the citizens of Ashland find better ways to be involved so they make a difference. I can’t do it alone. Join me in supporting the citizen forum on the bridge, the forming of two citizen committees and the debate around our city recorder/treasurer.

Carol Voisin is a member of the Ashland City Council.