Ashland charter change heads to fall ballot

·3 min read

Jul. 6—A ballot measure to amend the Ashland City Charter and place parks and recreation employees under the direction of the city manager will be on the November ballot.

Ashland City Council voted Tuesday to refer the measure to voters.

City Manager Joe Lessard, who proposed the measure, said the change would make it possible for the city's Human Resources Department to take care of all city employees, would ease a burdensome payroll process and would reduce difficulties that stem from differing policies surrounding sick leave, paid time off and employee training.

Ashland Parks and Recreation Commission members oppose the measure. APRC members are elected, and they choose the parks director. Over time the Parks and Recreation Department has developed its own culture and policies separate from the city.

Parks commissioners and their supporters claim this separation works for the parks system, which helps foster Ashland's tourism industry and increases the city's quality of life.

Some council members previously agreed with these statements, but a recent memo from the city's insurance company upended opposition to the charter change measure.

A memo sent July 1 to councilors and city staff stated the city's insurance premiums will rise by 30% — from $809,568 to $1,101,697.

The memo lists several reasons for the hike in costs, including the number of liability claims against the city since 2016, as well as liability from the city's emergency shelter, liquor sales at the golf course and an increase in worker's compensation claims.

In February 2022, a longtime Ashland Parks and Recreation Department employee filed a $750,000 lawsuit alleging she was the target of harassment based on age, gender and sexual orientation, and that there has been a decades-long history of discrimination in the department.

"As long as parks retains its autonomy from city oversight but is not an actual separate entity, CIS (city insurance provider) will continue to view this as taking on additional risk and liability for coverage," the memo said.

Councilor Stefani Seffinger called Ashland's parks the face of the city, pointing to both tourism and quality of life. She said the proposed charter change would effectively turn the parks commission into a city department, and without its current independence, city parks would fall into neglect and disrepair.

Councilor Gina DuQuenne said Seffinger's comment was coming from a place of fear, and said the change should have happened long ago.

Councilor Shaun Moran said the charter change would create continuity the city needs.

Councilors Paula Hyatt and Stephen Jensen said that while a charter change is unfortunate, and contrary to the wishes of parks commissioners, the added liability of the commission's independence is more than taxpayers can be expected to carry without the chance to object.

Seffinger said she believed parks should become its own district because her previous experience serving on its board led her to believe the city doesn't always support parks.

A motion to support the ballot measure passed, with Seffinger voting against.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Morgan Rothborne at mrothborne@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4487. Follow her on Twitter @MRothborne.