City attorney passes baton

·5 min read

Jul. 7—Ashland City Council unanimously approved a plan for recruiting a permanent city attorney Tuesday, with former City Attorney David Lohman retired as of July 1.

Mayor Julie Akins said Lohman, Human Resource Director Tina Gray and City Manager pro tem Adam Hanks contributed to the plan, which authorizes human resource staff to execute a search for candidates to bring back to a subcommittee of the City Council for recommendation and mayoral appointment. Gray led the recruitment process that brought Lohman to the city, Hanks said.

Before the meeting, looking back on Lohman's 10 years with the city and 40-year legal career, Hanks highlighted Lohman's enthusiasm and "deep love and care" for the community of Ashland as part of his lasting legacy.

"He made a conscious choice to come back here after a storied career in a lot of other areas at the private, state and federal government levels," Hanks said.

The city attorney provides legal counsel to the mayor, City Council and Ashland Parks and Recreation Commission, reviews and signs ordinance and resolution changes, assists every department with contract procurement, serves a key role in union negotiations, and acts as parliamentarian in City Council meetings, Hanks said.

"The city attorney's office really does touch every department in their operational needs and growth and development, in their people through labor and through HR, and then also has a heavy role with council and advising on legal issues," Hanks said.

The city attorney is one of four management team positions that interact with every department and City Council, along with the city manager, finance director and human resource director, Hanks said.

Lohman graduated from Yale University and the University of Michigan Law School. His career covered public school education, congressional campaigns and staffing, policy and planning for the Port of Portland, business litigation and volunteerism. He was admitted to the Oregon State Bar in 1981.

Lohman retired July 1 with no disciplinary sanctions on his record, and two complaints from 2013 and 2019 that were dismissed with no professional misconduct identified, according to the Bar.

"I would say most of the ethics guidelines that any good lawyer follows are the ethics guidelines that any good neighbor follows: Be honest with folks, be forthright and look for constructive ways to get things to happen positively," Lohman said.

Raised in Ashland, Lohman spent much of his career focused on public entities and issues. While working for a private legal practice in Medford, Lohman said he sought opportunities to fulfill his desire to work in the interest of the broader public good.

Drawn by the variety of specialty areas that compose municipal law, Lohman accepted the post of Ashland city attorney in June 2011.

He announced his retirement May 5, 2021.

"I'm not really ready for retirement," Lohman said. "It's a convergence of things; it just seemed like the right time."

Lohman said he harbors some guilt about leaving certain "big items" unfinished, but spoke confidently about Katrina Brown's ability to lead the office.

Brown — approved by the City Council June 15 to serve as interim city attorney — began working alongside Lohman as assistant city attorney in September 2017 and formerly worked as assistant city attorney in Salem.

Brown is familiar with issues in the city attorney's office, comes from her own strong legal background, and garnered experience dedicating about half of her time as assistant city attorney operating Ashland's municipal court, Hanks said.

Going forward, Lohman encouraged the legal department to clarify and update public contracting rules and codify certain administrative rules for ease of public and staff access.

The legal department includes a city attorney, assistant city attorney and half-time paralegal. As approved by the City Council, Douglas McGeary, former senior deputy district attorney for the Jackson County District Attorney's office, will provide contracted legal services during the transition. McGeary has previously provided legal services for the city, Hanks said.

Lohman said he is proud to leave behind "remarkably few" lawsuits, positive relationships with neighboring jurisdictions, budget reductions and strength among the team of senior management staff.

"In this business, which is high stress, where you come in to work everyday and you never know what you're going to have to deal with, that sense of teamwork from everybody in senior management is so important," Lohman said. "That's not just being a lawyer, that's not just providing legal advice, it's trying to figure out what's best for the whole community and for the staff."

A bit of legal trivia: Most lawsuits cities face are tort claims, for which Ashland is insured, Lohman said. Employment claims are vetted by city leadership and then the associated insurance company, which handles case defense and summary judgment in those instances, he said.

While professional propriety forbids the city attorney from commenting on council dynamics, Lohman's parting recommendation was for council to "voluntarily refrain from engaging in city business on social media."

"A lesson that I have learned is that government is a place in which social media has played a very unfortunate role," he said.

Lohman said social media discussion of city business appears to undermine necessary public work, create community divisions that latch onto personalities instead of substance, and often misrepresent city issues.

Elected officials make dozens of decisions daily — citizens should decide whether their representatives exercise appropriate judgment overall, not issue by issue, he said, recounting a lesson from John Dellenback, state and U.S. Congressman 1960-1974.

Now retired, Lohman looks forward to spending more time dedicated to his position as a board member on the Oregon Environmental Council.

The next Ashland city attorney will likely be placed in November.

Contact Ashland Tidings reporter Allayana Darrow at adarrow@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4497.

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