Ashland moves toward reducing number of citizen commissions

The Ashland City Council at Monday's study session.
September 20, 2022

16 commissions will be pared to 3, plus 5 standing committees and 7 ‘management advisory committees’ under proposal approved by council Tuesday

Update, 11 p.m. Sept. 20: The Ashland City Council unanimously approved the reorganization of the city’s commission system at Tuesday’s business meeting.

City Manager Joe Lessard clarified that there are actually 16 current commissions; the 17th is the state-mandated Citizens Budget Committee (not commission) mandated by state law.

Councilors did make some minor changes to wording to the resolution instituting the changes and, at the suggestion of Ashland Fire & Rescue Wildfire Division Chief, made the Forest Lands Committee separate from the Wildfire Safety Committee, both at the level of “management advisory committee.”

“Both commissions could be working at the staff level,” Chambers said. “The intent is not to dissolve those bodies. It’s an opportunity to reduce the burden on the staff. It takes a lot of time to put together the agendas, post agenda, record minutes — a lot of staff time, basically because of public meeting laws. It’s just a burden on the business we’re trying to accomplish on behalf of the citizens .. it’s not the intent to be behind closed doors. I believe it would make us much more productive .. a better use of our time.”

Since it’s a resolution, not an ordinance, the new policy can be modified by the council at any meeting.

Original story:

By Bert Etling, Ashland.news

The city of Ashland’s current 17 citizen commissions would be pared down to just three under a streamlining plan discussed by the Ashland City Council at its regular study session meeting Monday. Another 11 panels would be set up as either standing advisory committees or management advisory committees, for a total of 13 panels. Further discussion and possible adoption of the plan is expected at this evening’s regular business meeting, set to start at 6 p.m. in the Council Chambers.

The three remaining commissions are those necessary due to city charters or statutory requirements: planning, parks and recreation commissions.

Standing advisory committees, which would have members appointed by the mayor with the consent of the council and have council advisory responsibility, would be on: Climate and Environment (combining two current commissions); Historic Preservation; Housing & Human Services; Public Arts; and Social Equity and Racial Justice.

Ashland City Councilor Shaun Moran speaks during Monday’s Ashland City Council study session

A third category, management advisory committees, which as proposed would be structured by city staff to fill specific needs, would include: Airport, City Band, System Development Charge (having to do with fees charged for new construction connections to existing city infrastructure); Transportation; Trees and Urban Forest (combining the existing Tree and Forest Lands commissions); and Wildland Safety.

The proposal is intended to “reduce the need for staff support of formal commissions,” according to a staff report. No estimated dollar savings was given.

Asked by Councilor Shaun Moran about the reasons behind the restructuring, City Manager Joe Lessard said the first question was, “What’s required by (city) charter? What’s required by state law? After that, everything’s on the table.

“Participation of folks from the community will not go away,” he added. “As we need community input … those committees can be formed informally.”

Former commissions, soon-to-be committees, such as those for the airport and city band, Lessard said, could meet perhaps one or twice a year, while the one on transportation could meet “when updating a plan or when we need advice.”

More information

City staff reports on creating standing advisory committees are available by clicking here for Monday’s study session and here for Tuesday’s regular business meeting.
Videos of Ashland City Council, Parks & Recreation, and Planning Commission meetings are available for one year at bit.ly/coavideos.

Some, such as the one on trees and one on wildfire safety, could meet more regularly, perhaps for two or three months, then not again for a while, Lessard explained.

The proposal drew support from Councilor Gina DuQuenne, who said, “I’m really on board … because of staff and time commitments.”

“Staff will always reach out when they need advice from the community,” Lessard emphasized. “We can have discussion and dialogue with appropriate people in the community. It’s more of an informal process that saves the staff time.”

Concerns about the status of the Tree Commission were raised by Councilor Stefani Seffinger.
“It advises the Planning Commission,” she said. “It’s more formal than any other. The looseness, ad hoc-ness, lack of quorum, lack of minutes — will that fill the need of quasi-judicial matters?”

“They’d have the evidence or not,” responded interim City Attorney Doug McGeary.

Mayor Julie Akins speaks during Monday’s Ashland City Council study session.

“I wasn’t aware the management advisory committees would be ‘loosey goosey,’ without minutes,” said Mayor Julie Akins.

“It’s too loosey-goosey,” said Moran. “The council needs more oversight over these groups, they’re too all over the place for me. I like the first two sections (setting up commissions and standing advisory committees), but not the third (on management advisory committees).”

“We need to acknowledge the work of these people and honor that time and effort,” Councilor Tonya Graham said about the dissolution of most commissions.

“I wholeheartedly agree,” Akins said. “We need to honor these people. Acknowledging these people is important.”

Of the proposed “management advisory committees,” which would be set up by city staff, Akins said, “The council already doesn’t have enough information, now we’ll have even less.”

During Monday’s Ashland City Council study session, City Manager Joe Lessard holds up a draft explanation of the city’s vision and values which will be posted in city meeting places.

“That’s up to the council,” Lessard responded. “The idea was to reduce the number of groups.”

“I like what’s before us,” said Councilor Tonya Graham. “It codifies power the staff already has, to reach out for help. We have 20-something commissions  — where does all this volunteer energy go? I hope we move forward.”

“I think it’s good to eliminate some of the commissions,” Seffinger said. “It’s probably a good thing.”

Today’s meeting is set to start at 6 p.m. in the Ashland City Council chamber at 1175 E. Main St. Proceedings are cablecast live on Channel 9 (or 180), streamed online at rvtv.sou.edu, and posted online at bit.ly/coavideos the day after the meeting.

Email Ashland.news Executive Editor Bert Etling at betling@ashland.news or call or text him at 541-631-1313.

Sept. 21 update: Links added to staff reports and meeting videos.

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Bert Etling

Bert Etling

Bert Etling is the executive editor of Ashland.news. Email him at betling@ashland.news.
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