Email sent Monday morning does not cite a reason for departing two years in to a four-year term
By Damian Mann for Ashland.news
Ashland Mayor Julie Akins on Monday announced her resignation effective Friday after a sometimes-tumultuous two years leading the City Council in an email sent to City Manager Joe Lessard and City Council members at about 8:30 a.m. Monday.
Elected to the council in 2018, Akins had served two years when she was elected mayor in 2020. She was mid-way through a four term as mayor that started in January 2021.
“I hope I leave behind the understanding it’s possible to be kind and caring but firm and clear,” she stated in a resignation letter.
Akins, who could not be reached for comment Monday and didn’t provide specifics about why she was resigning, other than to say, “for me, it’s time,” has had a occasionally rocky time serving with the City Council, sometimes finding herself at odds with councilors over city employee disputes, audits and budget deficits.
“I’ve been honored to serve the people of Ashland as your elected mayor, an honor afforded few, and I have appreciated the support of the people,” she stated in her letter. “But it’s important to admit when it’s time, and for me it’s time.”
The council will have 60 days to find a replacement, according to the City Charter. The replacement can either be from the council itself or from the community at large and the new mayor will serve until the next biennial election in 2024.
“I was surprised that it happened now,” Councilor Robert Kaplan said.
Kaplan joined the council in January and said Akins was welcoming at the first council meeting this year but had called in ill for the second meeting
He had known Akins casually, and she had expressed to him how difficult it had been as mayor.
“It wasn’t easy,” Kaplan said. “She has said it has taken a toll on her personally.”
Kaplan said he’s got some ideas about possible replacements for mayor but didn’t want to share them yet.
“I think there are good options,” he said. “I look forward to figuring out what the process will be.”
Councilor Gina DuQuenne said she thought Akins spelled out her reasons why she was stepping down pretty well, though, like many people, she was surprised.
DuQuenne thinks the council has had bumps in the road but has made improvements.
“I think there is more stability now,” she said.
The process of selecting a new mayor will be developing, but DuQuenne said that Graham will serve as mayor pro tem and would be a good fit as the next mayor.
Asked if she thought about seeking the mayoral seat, DuQuenne said, “It won’t be me.”
Councilor Paula Hyatt, who learned of Akins resignation in an email Monday morning, said being mayor is a demanding job and that Akins served to the best of her ability and performed her role “from a love of where you live.”
“These decisions are exceptionally personal,” she said. “She has to do what’s best for herself and her family, and I respect that and support that.”
Hyatt said the first time the council will be able to discuss filling the mayor’s position will likely come up at the Feb. 7 council meeting.
Councilor Eric Hansen, who is new to the council, said it was a surprise to learn that Akins was stepping down.
“I had no head’s up from her,” he said. “I wish her the best.”
While the council has had its share of disputes lately, Hansen said, “I think that our council has been working well the last couple of meetings.”
He said council Chair Tonya Graham led the previous council meeting because Akins was absent.
Graham and Akins have butted heads at previous meetings, and Graham lost to Akins, 47-53%, in the 2020 mayor’s race.
Graham was out of town Monday and could not be reached for comment.
In a heated council meeting on July 5, 2022, Akins sparred with Graham, saying at one point, “For two and a half years I’ve been bullied and I’m really sick of it — so entirely sick of being bullied by this body.”
She continued, “I’m sorry I won the mayor’s race, get over it.”
At the time, Councilor Shaun Moran spoke up to defend Akins, saying that it seems like “every three months we do this, people take pot shots at the mayor.”
In spite of the controversy, Hansen, who has known Akins since her days as a reporter said, “She served during a memorable time in history.”
He said Ashland endured the travails of COVID-19 and the Almeda fire during her time with the city.
Akins was elected to the council in 2018, and then ran for mayor, winning a four-year term in 2020.
Previously, Akins was newsroom director at KOBI-TV, taught journalism at Southern Oregon University, and served a free-lance reporter with the now-defunct Mail Tribune and Ashland Tidings, where she covered the City Council, along with other city news.
In her resignation letter, Akins said the accomplishments she’s most proud of include creating the city Social Equity and Racial Justice Committee, supporting increased housing, funding an emergency shelter for vulnerable populations, moving the community through the pandemic and the Almeda Fire, working toward a sustainable budget and setting an agenda of transparency.
She stated, “I would also like to thank my husband Leo who sacrificed so much in order for me to do this kind of volunteerism in our community and toward our shared values. And I look forward to spending more time with him, with my family and in rebuilding my career, which I love. To the people of Ashland: You will see me around and my heart remains open to you.”
Reach writer Damian Mann at firstname.lastname@example.org.