Franko, Kaplan talk about rebuilding Ashland
By Stephen Floyd, Ashland.news
Political newcomers Jill Franko and Bob Kaplan are on the Nov. 8 ballot for Ashland City Council Position 4, the seat currently held by outgoing Councilor Stefani Seffinger.
Community organizer Franko’s background is in health and wellness financing, including as a consultant for the Marsh McLennan Agency and Barney & Barney Insurance Agency. She has been a board member with Youth Employment Services and currently serves on the Ashland School District board.
Kaplan spent three decades working in Latin America and the Caribbean on economic and community development and environmental policies and programs, including six years as president of the Inter-American Foundation and 16 years as an executive at the Inter-American Development Bank.
During a September forum organized and hosted by the Ashland Chamber of Commerce, both candidates outlined their views on how to make Ashland more affordable and appealing for both residents and businesses.
Franko said Ashland is looking at an opportunity to rebuild after the COVID-19 pandemic and Almeda Fire and that all citizens should be able to engage in this rebirth.
“Fifty years ago, we did it with Shakespeare when timber died and we can do it again now, not by eliminating culture and arts, but by leaning into them and expanding other strengths that Ashland embodies,” said Franko.
Kaplan said, since knocking on 1,700 doors during his campaign, he has learned that housing and affordability are at the tops of peoples’ minds, and the city is poised to take action as the community rebuilds.
“There are many people in Ashland that are just scraping by, and as inflation is making things more and more expensive, we can’t afford not to,” said Kaplan.
When asked how they would prioritize and accomplish their goals, Kaplan said Ashland can lean into its new city-manager-focus style of government. He said, with a city manager handling the hiring and training of personnel, that position can focus on building a strong team, while elected officials are freed up to look harder at policies that can make Ashland affordable and inclusive, such as reducing utility costs where possible.
“I’ll be very focused on helping the City Council and really take that ball and have an inclusive process to explore our possibilities,” said Kaplan.
Franko said it is important to cast a strong vision of what Ashland can aspire to become, and really invest in that vision. She said, during her service on the Ashland School Board, she is constantly bringing the group back to their vision for the district and reminding them that their actions and priorities should center on that ideal.
“If affordable Ashland is our goal, then everything that goes on the agenda should be addressing affordability,” said Franko. “… If we’re trying to address housing issues, then we need to make sure that it’s all consistent with those goals.”
When asked about the loss of 50 city employees during the last year, Kaplan said this situation was symptomatic of the “Great Resignation,” and represents further opportunities for Ashland to innovate and adapt.
“Voters should be worried about it,” said Kaplan. “It is always worrisome when we have an exodus of skilled staff … Every single business is facing the same sort of hiring and retention challenges.”
“A lot of our staff don’t live in Ashland because it’s hard to afford to live here, so we have to make that a real big priority,” said Franko, adding the city should invest in finding department heads who can manage people and finances effectively.
When asked how they would collaborate with community groups, Franko said the small-town groups that support Ashland are a valuable resource and represent the foundation of both society and democracy. She said utilizing these resources is where the city should start, and as collaborations move forward everyone should be given an opportunity to be heard.
“We can’t just depend on tourism,” she said. “There’s a lot of different avenues we can bring.”
Kaplan agreed that diversifying the city’s economy is important, and part of that is realizing the city’s place in the larger region, including its relationship with Medford, Talent and Phoenix. He said recent disasters like the Almeda Fire have shown how their communities are connected and that they can collaborate without losing what makes each community unique.
“We can do that without homogenizing and allow each community to retain its distinctive characteristic,” said Kaplan. “I think there are tremendous opportunities working together.”
Oct. 25 update: Candidate employment backgrounds updated to more accurately reflect their work experience.