Chuck Charles presided over a slate of mostly routine business after being sworn in as mayor Thursday, and afterwards talked about plans for Ashland, including one of his first initiatives, a neighborhood walk program.
“I’m right in the middle of being humble and excited,” Charles said while roaming commission chambers to shake hands with his supporters. “There are so many expectations. I hope I can live up to the expectations.”
Starting this spring, Charles will schedule hour-long Saturday strolls through each of Ashland’s neighborhoods and talk to residents about their own issues. He wants to revive the close-knit nature of the traditional neighborhood he grew up in, he said. “We knew everybody. Now neighbors hardly know who lives next door.”
Charles has identified 15 neighborhoods and appointed ambassadors in each to help smooth the way.
“They can walk with the mayor for an hour instead of them coming to the city building,” he said. “It’s a way to bring people back together and discuss initiatives and community problems.”
He will kick off the program April 6 with a walk through downtown, and plans to combine it with a downtown cleanup initiative he described as a cross between the U.S. 23 cleanup and the yearly Repair Affair. “We want to look like we’re ready for business,” he said.
The following week he will conduct a downtown business tour, the idea for which came to him while walking around looking at storefronts. The tour will be a way to market what downtown businesses have for sale, he said.
Nurturing existing businesses is a top economic priority, he said. Besides helping the commercial economy it will add to the city’s tax base.
Charles said Ashland is facing budgetary challenges that will require some belt-tightening and streamlining to increase efficiency. “That’s one of the things I’m good at,” he said. Among the city’s top budgetary issues are insurance and pension costs.
He said he wants to make Ashland a “city of choice” and not just for current residents. “We set our goals high as a place to live, work and play. I want a guy sitting in Arizona to say, ‘I’d like to live in Ashland.’”
Also sworn in Thursday were the four commission members, incumbents Larry Brown, Kevin Gunderson and Marty Gute, and incoming Commissioner Cheryl Spriggs. Spriggs has been on the commission before, but left in the last term to run for state representative.
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