“I am not a sunshine soldier”: Julie Akins Takes Over As Ashland’s Mayor
Julie Akins is a known commodity in southern Oregon. A former reporter for the Mail Tribune and Daily Tidings, and a former manager for KOBI, she had a front row seat to learn about local issues, taking a particular concern for homelessness. For Akins, her observations about homelessness translated to hands-on solutions, building tiny homes for families and advocating for fair wages. In 2018, Akins won a seat on Ashland’s City Council and, after two years as a city council member, stepped into the mayor’s race. She replaces John Stromberg, who had served since 2009 and who, in late June, withdrew his candidacy.
Rogue Valley Messenger: Your campaign emphasized “affordability” and “sustainability.” Can you unpack those words a bit more? What exactly do you mean by “affordability”? For housing? And, what city programs can bring that about, when the market forces may work against it?
Julie Akins: Using public land where possible, easing up on restrictions around parking for cottage housing, easing vertical building rules, annexation in some urban growth boundaries and getting creative with community development block grants. Affordability means having homes working people can afford to buy and to rent.
RVM: Let’s also ask: This is an extremely tough time—with COVID impacting businesses (especially many of those tourist-based ones on which Ashland relies) and the impact of last summer’s fires. Are you a glutton for punishment? This seems like an extremely tough time to be a mayor.
JA: No, I’m not a glutton for punishment, but a person who cares very much. Anyone can show up when it’s easy. Showing up when it’s hard is when it matters. I am not a sunshine soldier.
RVM: As much as COVID has impacted Ashland’s economy—front and center, the suspension of Oregon Shakespeare Festival for nearly a year—do those challenges also offer opportunities for Ashland to consider “altering” its economy?
JA: Yes. We need to start looking at ways to encourage our current living wage clean manufacturers and encourage others to settle in Ashland where they can manufacture in accordance with energy efficiency and mindfulness. Textiles from hemp comes to mind.
RVM: What compliment(s) can you give to the outgoing mayor
JA: He showed up for twelve years. That’s truly not easy.
RVM: And, finally: It has been a long time with the same mayor. Are there immediate changes that you feel like city councilmembers will notice with you at the helm? Immediate changes you think Ashland residents will notice?
JA: One never knows what people notice, but my first step was to be open to all so people can speak freely and honestly, and being more accessible.