Outgoing councilman reflects on time serving Ashland
For the past four years, James Foley could be found behind the town hall dais each first and third Tuesday of the month, where he and his fellow members of Ashland Town Council convened to conduct the town’s business.
That came to an end this month, as Foley, who was elected in 2010, opted not to run for re-election this past May.
There wasn’t a central issue that drove Foley away from elected office. He said that demands at work are increasing and he wanted to focus on his career as a pricing director for a large law firm over the next several years.
An 18-year resident of Ashland, time the native New Yorker jokes has allowed him to hone his “southern twang,” Foley said he originally decided to pursue office after no one else stepped up to the plate in 2010.
“I was very happy with the direction of the town, but Billy Martin was retiring and I didn’t see anyone else stepping forward, and so I decided to step forward,” Foley said. “I have no regrets, it’s been a great experience.”
Foley added that he believes he’s left the town in good hands following the May election, which returned incumbent Mayor Faye Prichard to council alongside political newcomer James Murray.
“I was worried about what might happen, but I think James [Murray] is going to do a wonderful job,” Foley said.
During Foley’s time on council, the town adopted and implemented a new comprehensive plan, a long-term planning document that serves as a benchmark for planning and zoning decisions. Foley said helping adopt the comp plan is a source of pride while looking back on his time in elected office.
“I happened to miss out on some of the more controversial, big zoning cases, just timing wise, but I think the comp plan is setting a basis for evaluating things,” he said.
Foley said he is also proud that while he was on council, the town strengthened its review process for potential political appointees to bodies like the town planning commission and economic development authority.
The process now resembles more of a job interview; town council meets with candidates and asks them formal questions related to the post. Foley said in the past, candidates were not vetted by the entire council.
“The end result of that is the people we have on those groups right now are very high quality,” Foley said.
Foley said he was in favor of the downtown improvements undertaken during his time on council, which included the recently completed streetscape overhaul along Railroad Avenue and the municipal parking lot. Foley said he was proud of those improvements, acknowledging they took place during some fairly tough fiscal years.
“We’re living in constrained financial times, so it wasn’t the time to do maybe as much as I would have wanted,” he said.
Foley said before he was elected, one of his dreams was to get the iconic Ashland Theater up and running. The circa-1948 theater on England Street was deeded to the town in the fall and town council has since dedicated funding for some renovations to the facility, which they hope to be able to hand off to a private sector operator.
“Although it’s not quite there yet I think we’re very close to being there,” Foley said, adding he was “glad to be a part of the environment that made that happen.”
Over the past four years, Foley couldn’t point to a vote that he has second-guessed or would reverse if given the chance. He did say there have been plenty of hard votes and that the process can be long and difficult, especially when it comes to land use decisions.
“When you get to zoning, it’s very personal. You don’t want the dingo farm next to the child care center,” Foley said.
In the future Foley said he might consider serving on the town’s parks and recreation committee as a way to remain civically engaged, conceding that making the step down from council to an appointed committee was probably the “opposite career track” that most might take.
Foley advises his successor on council to read the town council agenda packet in detail when it arrives the Friday before a meeting, and always seek clarification from town staff when it’s needed prior to a Tuesday meeting.
While he encourages doing plenty of research, Foley also said it’s important to keep an open mind during meetings and listen to constituents.
It’s also important to always vote your conscience, Foley said.
“We’ve had maybe 12 split decisions in my four years and that’s OK. [The mayor and I] disagreed a number of times and almost after every one, we’d look at each other and she’d say, ‘I still love you!’ But we disagreed on the issue, and more often than not, I was on the losing side, but not always. That didn’t matter; you just have to vote for what you think is the right answer,” Foley said.