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Ashland Council Member Tonya Graham appointed mayor

A woman sitting on a park bench outside, smiling at the camera
Tonya Graham
Incoming Ashland Mayor Tonya Graham in 2020

Ashland has a new mayor. Tonya Graham was appointed from within the city council Tuesday night. The council also added two ballot measures to a special election in mid-May.

Graham was unanimously selected by the council to serve through the next election in 2024.

She had unsuccessfully run for mayor in 2020. She lost to Julie Akins, who abruptly resigned from her mayoral post last month.

After being appointed by the council on Tuesday, Graham said Ashland is undergoing a period of major change.

“Now we have this transition that’s before us when we have a whole lot of work in front of this council,” she said. “And so I just want to say that I appreciate the support of my fellow councilors and I will do everything in my power to help us move through that work in the very best way possible.”

Graham has served on the city council since 2018. She was previously the interim chair while a new mayor was appointed.

The council still has one open seat, left by council member Shaun Moran, who resigned the day after Akins. Moran cited dysfunction within the city. The council is accepting applications to fill that seat through Feb. 14.

During the same meeting, the city council approved two ballot measures for an upcoming special election on May 16.

One will let residents vote on a change to the city’s food and beverage tax.

The city nets around $2 to $3 million per year from the tax on prepared food from places such as restaurants.

The proposed change would allocate nearly all of the tax money to the parks department, with a quarter of it dedicated solely for capital improvements like renovations and buying land.

“I see that our community is very passionate on this item on both sides,” said Council Member Paula Hyatt. “And I think it is for that reason that it should be ultimately the voters' decision.”

The city tried to alter the food and beverage tax last November. That measure would have instead given most of the tax to the city’s general fund, but residents voted it down.

Additionally, council members approved a measure asking for approval for a monthly $900 stipend for the mayor and other members of the council.

The mayor and council members currently receive just $500 and $350 a year respectively, approved by a city charter amendment in 1954. Any change to the council members' compensation needs to be approved by a public vote.

“I appreciate the opportunity to bring this forward so that other people can be councilors also,” said Council Member Gina DuQuenne. “I would love to see more diversity all the way around in city council.”

This change could actually save the city around $70,000 a year, according to Council Member Tonya Graham.

Council members previously received health insurance from the city until last year. In late 2022, the city manager cut those benefits because original records outlining them could not be found. The council was considering revisiting health benefits this year.

DuQuenne said since many people already get health insurance through another employer, a stipend is a better option to help supplement the income for council members who may be working another job.

Graham said the stipend is also optional for council members, she said they’d be free to donate it to a charity if they prefer.

Roman Battaglia is a regional reporter for Jefferson Public Radio. After graduating from Oregon State University, Roman came to JPR as part of the Charles Snowden Program for Excellence in Journalism in 2019. He then joined Delaware Public Media as a Report For America fellow before returning to the JPR newsroom.