New councilors Robert Kaplan and Eric Hansen to be sworn in Jan. 3
By Stephen Floyd, Ashland.news
The end of 2022 marks the departure of two Ashland City Council members who have left their marks on City Hall and their community.
Councilors Stefani Seffinger and Stephen Jensen attended their final council meeting Dec. 20 and were recognized by current and former officials for their years of service.
The two did not seek reelection and will be handing off their seats to councilors-elect Robert Kaplan and Eric Hansen, respectively, who are scheduled to be sworn in Jan. 3, along with returning Councilor Tonya Graham, who won a second term in the Nov. 8 election.
Seffinger and Jensen were presented with plaques commemorating their service, both on the council and prior city boards and committees, as well as words of thanks from Mayor Julie Akins and former councilors Rich Rosenthal and Dennis Slattery.
Both outgoing councilors said they were grateful for the opportunities to serve and the goals the city was able to achieve during their tenures.
“It’s been my pleasure to serve the city as I have,” said Seffinger. “I’ve gotten a lot from it, as well as, I think, given some positive things to the city.”
“It’s been an honor and a privilege to have served our city,” said Jensen.
Seffinger recalls accomplishments
Seffinger was first elected to the council in 2014 while serving as chair of the Ashland Parks and Recreation Commission (APRC). She had been part of APRC since 2010, as well as Ashland Forest Lands Commission.
This dedication to the outdoors and natural resources carried into her work on the council, and she highlighted programs at North Mountain Park Nature Center as as evidence of the “wonderful things” Ashland has undertaken and she hopes will continue.
“We’re teaching students to be stewards of the environment,” she said. “That’s the only way people are going to care, is if they learn.”
Seffinger said it is important to remember accomplishments, though it can sometimes be easier easy to focus on shortcomings, and said the development of programs focused on climate change, homelessness, affordable housing and senior citizens are among the successes she has experienced during her time in office.
“Our council has accomplished a lot,” she said.
She also said she was “really proud” of the work of city employees, calling out Planning Manager Brandon Goldman, Police Chief Tighe O’Meara and Fire Chief Ralph Sartain and thanking them for their dedication.
“All you guys are creating really positive programs for our city, putting in energy and making it a better place, and I think that’s really important for everybody to remember,” she said.
Akins said Seffinger had a “very long and busy career with the city of Ashland, for which we are very grateful.” Rosenthal, who served alongside Seffinger on both the council and APRC, said he admired her as an independent thinker who strove for consensus, but also knew when it was time to cast a vote.
“You did a great job on council,” Rosenthal told Seffinger. “You represent the community so admirably. I really admire you for that.”
Seffinger said, as she departs, her hope for the council in the future is that officials set an example they would want their children to follow.
“Let’s make our kids proud of how we work together, that’s my wish,” she said. “I love you all, and good luck to you.”
Jensen reflects on years of crisis
Jensen was appointed to the council in 2017 and elected the following year. He noted how his term was marked by a series of crises, from the COVID-19 pandemic to the Almeda Fire to a year with a hot, smoky summer and dry winter, and recent high administrative turnover in City Hall.
“It’s been a busy four years on the council,” he said. “The good news is we, as a city, we have put a solid administrative team in place. We weathered COVID, unafraid of robust safety protocols. We stepped up strong for Almeda Fire victims in the region. The predicted budget sky has not fallen. The smoke and wildfire dangers will be with us, and our city will be resilient as a matter of course.”
Prior to this, Jensen served as chair of the Ashland Forest Lands Commission and was primary editor of both the 2016 Ashland Forest Plan and 2018 Ashland Trails Master Plan.
Rosenthal said Jensen was “Ashland’s most interesting man” due to his his varied background, and possessing a “keen sense of what is and isn’t appropriate in terms of local governance.”
“You’re a person who can speak authoritatively on a wide range of subjects, from geopolitics to sports to healthcare to education to outdoor recreation and everything in between,” said Rosenthal. “I will admire you greatly for how you do things.”
Slattery said it was an honor to work with Jensen, as well as Seffinger, and thanked them both for their willingness to serve and engage with their community.
“The legacy you’ll leave is one of great honor and appreciation,” said Slattery. “Thank you both for everything you’ve done for this community.”
Jensen offered the council some parting kernels of wisdom, from practical advice such as how to confidently stanch an open wound, to the importance of limiting the influence of social media as a “dangerous, mostly unproductive … time-waster.” He also reflected on civic leadership, from the importance of recognizing the value of city staff to the necessity of reading agenda packets before a council meeting.
He gave particular weight to the societal power structures we often take for granted, and the need to acknowledge that even passive discrimination and bias stem from the dangerous belief that might makes right.
“The traditionally powerful have continuously oppressed, exploited, marginalized and silenced those who traditionally have not held power,” he said. “Whenever you find yourself a part of the traditionally powerful, center yourself and stand with those who have less power. I promise you will be on the right side of history, whether it be out in the larger world, or right here in our own home town.”
“Thank you,” he continued, “and vaya con Dios.”