Ward 3: Jason Bolen wants to build on lessons learned from first term on council

Jason Bolen has learned a lot during his four years as a City Council member.
“It’s been work,” Bolen said. “I’ve learned so much about the city and about budgeting and about the municipal process that it’s been tremendous for me as a person.”
The process has helped him understand what department heads go through and how they lead and manage their departments.
When Bolen was elected in 2012, he visited every department, he said.
“You’ve got to know what those employees are doing before you can make a decision that affects them dramatically, like a layoff or a reduction in staffing, so that was important to me,” Bolen said. “I feel like I have a pretty good relationship now with a lot of those department guys. That makes it more personal I guess when you see them come up to give a staff report.”
He feels it is important to city staff that councilors understand and share some of their concerns.
When Gary Marks started as city manager, city councilors had more direct access to city staff, Bolen said.
“I’ve developed a great relationship with the department heads and Gary has given me the freedom to just reach out to a department head,” Bolen said. “If you’ve got a question with engineering, call (Engineering Services Director) Ron Witlatch.”
In 2012, when John Hitt was city manager, Bolen said he had to contact Hitt before speaking with other staff members.
“It was a courtesy thing, I think, and probably more the fact he would maybe follow up and see what I was talking about or where I was headed,” he said. “I was never headed anywhere devious, I was just headed for answers. I just wanted to know the truth.”
Bolen recalled a recent situation in which a resident called him about water that was building up in their front yard.
“I called (Maintenance Operations Director) Jason Williams,” Bolen said. “Literally within 20 minutes, Williams calls me back and says ‘I got a crew going down there right now.’
“That’s results. If I was the citizen making that complaint and half an hour later, a city crew was at my doorstep, I’d feel pretty damn good about the state of my local government.”
He thinks it is important for citizens to have access to their city councilors.
“Whether that’s Facebook or telephone, or knocking on my door,” Bolen said. “I’ve had people knock on my door. I get stopped in the store.”
The issues vary in severity, but they are important to the person contacting him.
People just want to be heard, he said.
“Just recently the snowbird issue has come up again about the water and you know what, I was against that when that first came up three or four years ago,” Bolen said.
Local residents who travel south for the winter have asked for reduced water rates during their absences.
“The more I think about, it’s like you know, what’s the real impact of this? How much is it going to hurt us if we defer some rates for some people? Maybe 12 people out of 5,000.”
City staff is looking into it and will report their findings to the council.
“It’s important, the citizens are going out of their way to come to me, it’s important,” Bolen said. “So let’s look into it. That’s the kind of reaction they’re used to getting out of council, and I’m proud of that.”
Part of that communication between citizens and councilors is the change in the structure of the public comments portion of City Council meetings enacted after 2012.
“(Before) people would get up and speak and nobody would answer you,” Bolen said. “They’d just stare at you like you had worms crawling out of your ears until you sat down.
“Now, not only do you get answers, but you get discourse, you get your time extended. If the conversation is rolling, they’ll stay up there 10 minutes talking and we’ll just forfeit our time. That’s important. That’s what local government’s all about.”
People are comfortable talking to the council because they know they’re going to get an answer, he said.
“The toughest thing for us is that we know most times, when it comes to water or whatever, we’re not going to give them the answer that they want,” Bolen said.
“Oftentimes, we have a few people that we go back and forth with that, they still think we’re lying or being deceptive or untruthful with them, but the answer that you want may not necessarily be the truth and they’re going to get the truth from us and if we don’t know, if I don’t know, I’m going to find out.”
One of the things he appreciates about the current City Council make-up is that they don’t agree.
“There’s a lot of debate and there’s a lot of talks that goes on that never used to happen and I think that’s a real positive for Lebanon,” Bolen said.
“What it does is, it creates this professional discourse, where we listen to each other and we try to sway each other and try to advocate our position and come to common ground. We’ve always been able to come to common ground and that never used to happen.”
The council has members that are ultra-conservative and ultra-liberal people, he said. He sees himself as in the middle.
“I love to be fiscally conservative,” Bolen said. “I like to be liberal when it comes to programs and things that benefit our community – parks expansion, going for grants that can help fund new things like Christopher Columbus Park or Strawberry Plaza. Infrastructure stuff that’s good for the whole community.”
Those are the things that enhance the sense of community, he said.
“If you have things like parks that are modern, things like play structures and community spaces that foster interpersonal relationships and foster interaction with the community and businesses, that leads to that sense of community,” Bolen said.
It’s the small-town community that people in Lebanon like and want to keep even while expanding responsibly, he said.
“Fiscally, we have to be conservative,” Bolen said. “We’ve had such strife with the budget and with our revenue stream over the past four years and going back, that having someone like Gary who is uber-conservative when it comes to finances and the budget is sharp as a tack when it comes to the budget.”
Things are going well now, he said.
“I want to keep rolling on this, we’re in the middle of this (2040 Vision) process and now the master plan process,” Bolen said. “We’ve come so far. We’re starting to see where we want to go as a community, not just as a council. I want to be a part of continuing that vision and making that vision a reality.”
He doesn’t plan on staying a counselor until 2040 but does want to stay on until the master plan is complete.
“When someone comes along that has more ambition or better ideas than me or more drive to do it and they want to do it, more power to them,” Bolen said.
“I didn’t get into this to become a career politician, I got into this to be a part of some positive change in my community because I felt like things weren’t going well and it was the whole concept of either you can complain and do nothing, or you can stop complaining and do something about it. And me running for council was my way of doing something about it.”

By Audrey Gomez
Lebanon Local