Runnerup Franko concerned about political action committee influence
By Stephen Floyd, Ashland.news
Ashland City Council candidates Bob Kaplan and Jill Franko have commended each other on clean, proactive campaigns following the Nov. 8 election, though Franko has taken issue with a Political Action Committee (PAC) formed to oppose local measures.
Though Kaplan captured 60.7 percent of the vote to Franko’s 39 percent, both individuals saw a community focus in the efforts of their opponent.
“I look forward to working with (Franko) in (her) role on the school board to ensure Ashland is always a great place to raise a family,” said Kaplan.
“Sometimes I felt like (Kaplan) and I were the only ones running,” said Franko. “We both worked so hard.”
A 22-point lead on election day was a surprise to Kaplan, who is new to elected office but quite familiar with government finance and administration, having held executive positions in federally affiliated lending institutions and the World Bank. He attributed the support to his door-to-door campaign, meeting voters personally and hearing their concerns.
“I listened to their stories and what really matters to them,” said Kaplan. “I knocked on 3,340 doors — well over a third of the voting households in Ashland. It was also a great way to prepare me for the work ahead.”
Kaplan said such a strong showing of support has energized him to hit the ground running, and said his highest priority will be filling currently empty city positions that have left existing staff at risk of burnout.
“We have a highly capable team in place in the city, but they are stretched thin because we have so many vacancies at all levels,” he said. “We need to give our city manager the tools and support he needs to fill these positions. Only then will our city have the bandwidth to go beyond critical operations to tackle bigger issues.”
Kaplan said the last few years have exacted a toll on the community, not just economically but psychologically and have challenged the community’s belief in its ability to find solutions. But he believes Ashland can emerge from these difficulties if its leaders promote unity.
“My career in public service has taught me that people can come together despite differences to accomplish amazing things,” he said. “We definitely can do that here too. I look forward to working with the mayor, my council colleagues, and our excellent city staff for the benefit of our entire community.”
Alleged ‘undue influence’
Franko said she plans to continue playing a role in civic leadership as a member of the Ashland School District board, and encouraged her supporters to reach out for opportunities to become involved.
“I will continue fighting for affordability, economic diversity and mental health services,” she said. “I already have ideas on how to implement various projects in our community without serving as a councilor.”
Franko said she was not necessarily surprised Kaplan won, saying she faced the toughest city council opponent between Kaplan’s dedicated campaigning and his background in government administration. But she said she was surprised by his large lead, until she looked closer at the election results.
Franko noted all three city council races had remarkably similar results, as well as city measures 15-210 and 15-211, related to the Ashland Parks and Recreation Commission (APRC). Each council candidate won, and both measures failed, with roughly 60 percent of votes in the majority, and Franko claimed the PAC Preserve Our Parks went out of its way to influence this outcome.
“It was all determined by one very powerful PAC that told people they would lose their parks if they voted for certain people and certain measures,” said Franko. “Unfortunately, this has allowed some very powerful people to never be held accountable for their decisions. I want people to understand the game. At the end of the day, it affects what Ashland will become.”
According to state records, Preserve Our Parks was formed in September in opposition to the motions. It recorded $4,130 in cash contributions and spent $798.81 during the election, the vast majority of which went to yard signs.
They ended the election cycle with $3,331 in cash contributions remaining. Under Oregon law, these funds may be retained for future PAC activities, donated to another PAC or to a charitable organization, but may not be converted to personal funds.
Preserve Our Parks board members include APRC Commissioners Rick Landt and James Bachman, former APRC Commissioner Michael Gardiner, and land use planner Mark Knox of KDA Homes. Bachman, who is also the PAC’s treasurer, said the committee ran a positive campaign and the election results for the two measures reflect voter’s desire for APRC autonomy.
“I was delighted by the overwhelming support we received from the voters,” said Bachman. “Clearly they prefer that the APRC remain a relatively autonomous elected entity, rather than being treated as a city department under the city manager’s control.”
Franko acknowledged none of the three City Council candidates who won the election were part of an official slate of contenders, nor were they officially endorsed by any PACs. But she said the election results are too similar and too one-sided to be coincidental, and she wants voters to be aware of the outsized influence a small group of people may be having on local politics.
“I would like Ashland to see the game and call it out,” she said. “In local politics especially, it should never be about PACs or special interests, it should always be about the people.”
Email Ashland.news reporter Stephen Floyd at firstname.lastname@example.org.