The city embraces reducing local greenhouse gas emissions formulated in the Climate Action and Energy Plan (CEAP), city councilors agreed at Tuesday's business meeting, but found themselves in something of a Goldilocks quandary in determining how to formalize the city's efforts: In the form of resolution, saying it's what the city would like to do? Too soft. In the form of an ordinance, mandating the city achieve definite target numbers? Too hard. In the end, the consensus was to put the goals in the form of an ordinance, but make the goals "shoulds" instead of "shalls." Just right.
The CEAP is the result of a nearly two-year process of considering best methods to reduce Ashland’s carbon footprint and contribute less to climate change.
The council considered a draft ordinance which would codify conservation and innovation around climate change, but ultimately had legal concerns about the language which compels it to reach certain benchmarks.
“I’ve prepared language that makes the goals aspirational, not mandatory,” City Attorney Dave Lohman told the council. He said if they adopt an ordinance demanding action they could be in danger of legal action. “You risk being sued for not following your own ordinance.”
So the council sent the idea back to the drawing board with Lohman. “Can we make it have the wording of a resolution but have it be an ordinance?” asked Councilor Dennis Slattery, who later explained he didn’t want the city to be legally bound and at risk but also did not want the recommendations to be put on a back burner or overturned without public hearings.
Councilor Stefani Seffinger quipped, “I think it’s confusing using resolution language in an ordinance. It’s like playing a game.” However, the plan was approved.
The concerns brought forward by Lohman were echoed by councilors like Mike Morris, who says while the goal of reducing emissions by 8 percent is a good one, it’s unclear how that would happen, or if it’s possible.
“I don’t know if we can do an ordinance that says we must achieve 8 percent because I don’t think it’s possible,” he said. He pointed to the fluorescent lights in the council chamber, “These lights were put in because of an ordinance. We thought this was the best way to do things. I don’t think we can mandate it because we don’t know how to do it.”
Mayor John Stromberg, while not weighing in specifically on the ordinance, suggested laws alone do not create change. “An ingredient that needs to be added is practical innovations. If Ashland could do it — not write ordinances, but actually do it — we could make this a community mission.”
Members of the public have testified consistently in favor of an ordinance and Tuesday was no exception. “There is a mandate to reduce our carbon footprint,” Claya Dennon told the council. “Other plans have accompanying ordinances.”
Councilor Rich Rosenthal agreed that action is the point of preparing the CEAP. “I can tell you we need actions not words. We want to reduce our carbon footprint,” he said, but he stopped short of wanting to mandate it. “But what sort of teeth do we need?”
In the end the councilors moved to create a new ordinance without mandates but with aspirational goals as the safest middle way approach. “I don’t think we can force people into doing things. We make the case and argument and bring people along. Your best bet is to turn CEAP into a community value,” said Slattery.
The council will consider the newly written draft at the next regular council meeting on Aug. 1.
The council also voted not to establish a CEAP commission, but instead create an ad hoc committee which works at the will of the mayor and interacts with commissions already in existence, such as the Conservation Commission.
Budget committee to meet regularly
The City Council also created an ad hoc budget committee which will meet regularly to discuss the two-year budget as a way of avoiding the difficult style of budget hearings which wrapped up in late June. Slattery, who made the motion, said it makes sense to come together more frequently, but rejected the concept of providing quarterly financial reports to the group, instead opting for the committee to make its own decisions about the information it needs. “I think it makes a lot of sense to be more prepared for next time,” he said.
—Email Ashland freelance writer Julie Akins at email@example.com and follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/@julieakins.