New 30-bed shelter on Ashland Street expected to be open for 71 days before state emergency funding expires
By Morgan Rothborne, Ashland.news
On a 4-2 vote, the Ashland City Council on Tuesday approved a contract with a nonprofit organization to operate a new shelter at 2200 Ashland St.
Options for Housing Resources and Assistance (OHRA) has agreed to operate the 30-bed shelter for 71 days of 24/7 staffing at a cost of no more than $200,000, which is budgeted into the state grant the city has received, according to meeting materials. The contract will automatically be void on Jan. 10, 2023, the day a one-year state emergency declaration on homelessness expires. Any continued services beyond that date would have to be renegotiated between OHRA and the city of Ashland, said Linda Reid, housing program specialist for the city.
Tuesday night, City Council was asked to approve or reject the contract. Multiple councilors, including some who ended up voting to approve the contract, expressed misgivings they said reflected what they’ve heard from Ashland residents.
Councilor Bob Kaplan opened the discussion with a question about how concerns from residents would be relayed and received by OHRA after the shelter was operational. His fellow councilors also have heard from residents about the issue.
Reid responded that OHRA would be responsive and an accessible channel of dialogue could move from an already established neighborhood group to the city then to OHRA. Graham stated as self-appointed city liaison of the neighborhood group, its concerns and ideas for the shelter were sent to the city last Wednesday and were being incorporated into shelter plans.
Councilor Gina DuQuenne asked about the balance of power if complaints were to arise from residents — would OHRA have “complete say-so” until Jan. 10? Councilor Dylan Bloom asked if the contract could be altered to include an addendum to give the city more leverage in the event of concerns.
Councilor Paula Hyatt asked Reid what could happen if the city rejected the contract and asked for changes.
“The delay could mean OHRA isn’t able to hire staff and isn’t able to open on time,” Reid responded. “It could make them feel uncomfortable about entering into a contractual relationship with the city either now or in the future. I couldn’t speak for them, but this has been a long process already. … a delay could be disastrous, or it could be fine.”
The city could end up having to return funds to the state if the shelter is unable to open. If OHRA decided not to enter into the contract, the city would have to find a new provider, which may not be possible, she said.
Councilor Jeff Dahle stated he approved the original shelter based on the information available at the time and the desire to respond to the issue, but felt the process was being done out of order and he could not vote yes on the contract. DuQuenne said she believed the contract should be approved after the open housing meeting Wednesday night and not before.
All councilors voted in favor of the contract with the exception of Dahle and Duequnne. Bloom said before the vote that, while he believes the city “got it wrong” with the shelter’s process, the risk of rejecting the contract was too high to vote no.
Council also voted unanimously to approve transitional housing accommodations at 2200 Ashland St. The resolution prohibits tents, recreational vehicles, yurts or other forms of transitional housing on the property while allowing temporary housing inside the facility, interim City Attorney Doug McGeary said.
Interim city recorder appointed
The council also voted unanimously to appoint current city employee Alissa Kolodzinski as the interim city recorder and place a potential charter change on the ballot for the May election.
Voters will decide in May if Ashland’s city recorder should remain an elected position or if the job should become an appointed position. If the voters favor retaining the recorder as an elected official, candidates will be able to run for the November election and anyone filling the role of recorder at that time will not be running as an incumbent, said City Manager Joe Lessard.
Kolodzinski was formally an employee in the city manager’s office, assisting in preparing information for council, Bloom said as he described her as “highly qualified” for the position. Kaplan stated the nature of the duties of the position of recorder have changed in recent years — financial and treasury responsibilities previously connected to the job are now under the director of finance.
Former city Councilor Russ Silbiger offered sharp criticism of the appointment.
“I thought ya’ll knew where you were doing — I was wrong,” he said.
Silbiger referenced a tight election for city recorder in 1994, referring to the position as “the eyes and ears” of city hall. He accused the council of potentially not following proper procedure in appointing Kolodzinski to the position, since it was not done in public.
“Making the mistake you are making tonight you are showing complete contempt for the process, for the citizens. … You went in the back, actually I shouldn’t even guess what you did. But I will find out,” he said.
Silbiger then presented a public information request to Dana Smith, clerk of the council Pro Tem who has been fulfilling the role of recorder since the position became vacant Aug. 31 of 2023.
Dahle stated ahead of his vote that the council followed procedure for Kolodzinski’s appointment according to the charter.
Email Ashland.news reporter Morgan Rothborne at firstname.lastname@example.org.