Councilor mentions mayor’s resignation in his letter, leaves council with two positions to fill in the next 60 days
By Damian Mann for Ashland.news
Ashland Councilor Shaun Moran announced his immediate resignation Tuesday, a day after the unexpected resignation of Mayor Julie Akins.
In his resignation letter sent out by email at noon Tuesday, Moran said he couldn’t continue to be on the council because of its unwillingness to tackle budget issues the city faces, saying remaining on the council “would be ineffectual and, frankly, hopeless.”
He cited what he called the “unfettered spending and inevitable fiscal crisis which needed to be addressed for Ashlanders.”
A Budget Committee member for seven years, Moran was starting the third year of his four-year term as councilor. He was elected with 40% of the vote from among four candidates on the 2020 ballot.
Moran, who could not be reached for additional comment, stated in his letter, “Yet, even with a new city manager, there continues to be no interest or sense of urgency in addressing and solving these critical issues.”
The resignation of Akins takes effect Friday.
The remaining five city councilors will have 60 days to select a new mayor and now a new councilor, according to the City Charter, and they could take up the issue at the Feb. 7 council meeting.
Moran stated that his decision to resign was triggered by the resignation of Akins, an ally on the council.
His resignation adds to the turmoil the city has faced in recent years as the city grapples with staffing and budget issues and a sometimes fractious City Council.
Council Chair Tonya Graham, who is at a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) training center in Washington, D.C., this week, said on Tuesday, “I was completely surprised by Mayor Akins’s announcement yesterday. I was not as surprised by Councilor Moran’s resignation.”
She said Moran hadn’t shown up at several council meetings over the past few months.
Graham, as council chair, will assume the role of mayor until a new mayor is selected. She ran for mayor in 2020, losing to Akins by 751 votes, a 6% margin, out of 13,159 cast.
Graham said she doesn’t know if she would accept taking over as mayor permanently, if the council selects her.
“It was such a surprise that I haven’t had any time to think about it,” she said. “My primary focus is making sure we have a solid process in place, and we do.”
At the beginning of the year, the council was set to select a new council chair, but didn’t act upon that decision because of a full agenda.
Graham said the selection of chair and the selection of a mayor and a new councilor will be part of the discussion at an upcoming council meeting.
“We’re going to have to discuss the order and the timing of these steps,” she said.
Graham said the area of greatest disagreement on the council has been over budget issues, but she said the city, while facing difficulties, is in a good financial position and has been able to increase its reserves and develop a balanced budget.
“This is one of the places where I would disagree with Councilor Moran,” she said.
Staffing continues to be an issue for the city as it is for many other governments around the state, Graham said.
The utility billing has also been a difficult issue for city residents, but Graham said that until a new system is in place, “We are not shutting anybody off.”
She did say there are budgetary issues that will continue to affect the city for some time.
While property taxes can by law go up 3% a year, the rate of inflation in some budgetary areas well exceeds that amount, Graham said.
She cited health-care premium costs and the rise in the Public Employees Retirement System as two examples.
The city is going to get new firefighting uniforms that don’t have the same level of carcinogens as older uniforms, but that also comes at a high cost and this purchase is driven by changing regulatory rules.
“We’re trying to protect the services that Ashland wants,” Graham said.
Councilor Robert Kaplan, who joined the council in January, said he was less surprised that Moran resigned because he had missed about half the meetings over the past two months.
“There was some speculation that he might not be intending to continue,” he said.
Despite Moran’s statements about the city’s financial outlook, Kaplan said the city’s general fund budget is in good shape.
“Ashland has increased its ending funding balance,” he said. “We’re in better shape than we were a year and a half ago.”
He said city staff is down about 50 people right now, and it has proven difficult to get positions filled.
Kaplan said he is looking forward to proposals to get staffing back to normal from the City Manager Joseph Lessard, who just passed his first anniversary in the job.
Kaplan remembers joining the council this month and being welcomed by Akins.
“I was looking forward to working with Julie, and I was looking forward to working with Shaun,” he said.