Interview with Tonya Graham, candidate for Mayor of Ashland, Oregon
(my questions are in boldface)
1) Could you say something here about your connection to Ashland as a place?
I moved here the first time in 1991 and then came back to stay about 24 years ago. Since then, it has become my second hometown. I have loved rafting, camping, and hiking for decades along with attending plays and concerts. My favorite season is fall and there is no where I would rather be when the leaves are turning than Lithia Park. I never miss an Ashland parade if I can help it. I have raised my children here, coached their youth sports teams, volunteered at the schools, and cheered from the sidelines in so many locations around town and across the valley. Ashland is my home.
2) Ashland has gone through some economic changes since February 2020. As Mayor, how do you intend to work with the new situation?
Climate change impacts in terms of extreme heat, wildfire, and smoke, along with accelerating change in the retail world, were already forcing economic change before COVID-19 arrived. Efforts have been underway for several years to diversify Ashland’s general economy as well as its visitor economy. Those efforts need to continue, and we must look to new paradigms for local economic development. Renewable energy is a great focus for both addressing climate change and creating family wage jobs. We must also look to new vehicles for economic development, including Community Investment Funds, as well as ways to keep our money circulating locally through small businesses. The Ashland Chamber of Commerce, Travel Ashland, and Ashland Works are all developing interesting ideas about where we go from here. The City has been a good partner in several of these efforts and should serve as a community-wide convener of the economic development conversation so that we can develop a plan that responds to our new reality and get busy implementing it.
3) What sort of community involvement would best bring about needed changes in Ashland?
The pandemic has shown us that there are so many different ways we can engage with each other and the City needs to foster that engagement by communicating information about what is happening at the City and how people can engage to influence decisions. The City must also create new formats for engagement. Not everything needs to be a study session or business meeting. The Listening Session we had before the last budget process, as well as the Town Hall we had regarding the City Hall building, were both good examples of innovative ways of engaging with the Ashland community. Going forward, we must also continue to use online and more formal surveys of the community, particularly as we come to important decisions.
4) How can Ashland’s unhoused population, specifically, best be mobilized to transform Ashland?
When we talk about our unhoused population, there are actually several populations within that group – all of whom have slightly or very different needs. Our work to address homelessness needs to accommodate those different realities and meet people where they are. I want to help create a comprehensive regional plan for serving the needs of our unhoused neighbors that has equal clarity about the role Ashland is to play in that larger plan. This will allow Ashland to make the best investment of public money and community contributions in addressing this issue. Good work is already happening, and we need to build on that moving forward.
5) In what ways can alternative approaches to policing be best applied in Ashland?
Ashland already does several things that are often unique in police departments in the United States. Our officers train on procedural justice and implicit bias. In addition, we are one of the municipalities piloting data collection for the Statistical Transparency of Policing Act at the state level. This system, when fully implemented, will help us understand if who is being stopped by police and what is happening with them (ticket, warning, etc.) aligns with the general demographics of our community. Finally, our police department has been working with the Culture of Peace Commission to support an internal police department culture built around the concept of the “peace officer.” We are actively working to develop a system where people who call for help are responded to by those best able to provide that help – whether that is a police officer or a mental health practitioner. I have been working on that project for several months and will continue to do so, while also monitoring progress regarding training and support to ensure that all people are treated equitably by law enforcement.
6) Characterize your opposition and lay out for your audience what needs to be done to prevail against it.
Ashland has two progressive women running for mayor. What is different is our approach to problem solving. I prefer to study a system with others who see the need for change before making significant changes in it. This allows me to see what is working and what is not so that effective change can be made with precision. I have spent the last two years developing a strong understanding of how the City works, how money moves through the system, and what areas need the most attention in preparation for making strategic changes.
I work hard to make sure I am prepared for the discussions at Council and that I participate in community events so that I can see what parts of our community need attention. I see the mayor as a convener, facilitator, and communicator – someone who works to ensure that the people are engaged directly whenever feasible in setting the course for their community. My professional work has helped me develop these skills and I am excited to bring them to bear on behalf of my community.
7) Please say something about how the world would be if it could be like you want it to be.
The planet would be healthy – and that includes both nature and people. Different cultures and world views would co-exist peacefully and would appreciate diversity. We would make sure everyone has what they need by providing a very good education for our children, encouraging a culture of self-sufficiency, and caring for our neighbors. People would travel primarily by smaller vehicle (bikes, scooters, small electric cars, etc.) and the world would feel much more human-scaled. All people will have what they need to plan their families and take care of the children they have. We will have addressed climate change and created resilience in the face of the impacts that cannot be avoided.
8) And suggest some things to be done if the world is going to be that way.
It comes down to economic, social, and climate resilience – not the resilience that tries to recreate the past, but a resilience that allows us to move through challenges and emerge stronger. We develop resilience by coming together and setting a vision that we then work toward making a reality. That vision is held by the people of Ashland, so it’s the City’s job, under the leadership of the mayor, to engage the people, develop the strategies, and put them in motion. This work needs to be done by all sectors, not just local government. It requires business owners, residents, and different levels of government all working toward a shared resilience goal to be successful.
For more information about what I think about different topics, visit: www.TonyaForAshland.com and check out my blog as well as the “On the Issues” tab. Thank you!