Frequent litigant announces run for mayor

By Chris Rizo | Aug 18, 2008

Ashland Springs Hotel

Former Mayor Cathy Shaw

Judge G. Philip Arnold

ASHLAND, Ore. (Legal Newsline)-The mysterious man in this picturesque Southern Oregon town who has become synonymous with suing a City Hall he says is fraught with corruption has announced he will run to be its next mayor.

Art Bullock, who refuses to comment to the local media and allegedly goes by this alias, has a bevy of lawsuits pending against the city of Ashland, a tourist destination, which rests in the foothills of the Siskiyou Mountains, and is home to the renowned Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

Bullock, who county officials said registered to vote the same day he filed his campaign papers Wednesday, says he is running for mayor because the city government here is "run by insiders aggressively pursuing their personal agendas and money interests."

Ashland is where "insiders get the power (and) taxpayers get the bill," Bullock said in a statement announcing his candidacy.

While supporters say Bullock is an astute City Hall watchdog, his many critics say Bullock is a gadfly whose aim is to stymie economic development in the idyllic town of about 20,000 people by filing frivolous complaints.

While the liberal enclave of political activism has at times made national news for its zany politics - for example, USA Today ran a story about the Ashland City Council paying roughly $40,000 to have group therapy and training sessions because the council had become so rife with discord in 2007 - Bullock's candidacy could take this extreme political town to a new extreme, critics say.

Bullock was once captured and displayed on YouTube for ducking-and-dodging during a City Council meeting to avoid being photographed by the local newspaper, the Ashland Daily Tidings.

Bullock and six other candidates are vying to replace Ashland Mayor John Morrison, who is not seeking a second term. The mayor's election will be decided in November's general election.

Despite his array of legal actions against the city government, Bullock refused to return calls from reporters, even after joining the political fray as a candidate for the city's top post.

Former longtime Mayor Cathy Shaw, now a Democratic campaign strategist and author of one of the definitive university texts on running local political campaigns, said Bullock's chance of winning the mayor's race are remote at best.

"I've not heard many positive words about the impact that Art Bullock has made on the city of Ashland," Shaw said in an interview Sunday. "First and foremost, is the cost that he has foisted upon the taxpayers through frivolous lawsuits."

Among the lawsuits Bullock has filed with others are three challenges to local improvement districts, where residents and businesses opt be taxed for special street and sidewalk maintenance.

"When you sue the city, you're suing the citizens and that money is no longer available for other purposes because it is used for legal defense," said Shaw, who was mayor from 1989 through 2000.

Lawsuits, she said "have a tendency to stop forward motion" like long-range planning.

"For a city that's as vibrant and as involved as Ashland that creates a kind of a malaise at a time when we all need to be moving as quickly as we can," Shaw told Legal Newsline.

City officials have said lawsuits that Bullock has filed has cost the city much-needed money.

To remain on top of the lawsuits filed by Bullock, the city had to contract with an outside law firm -- Harrang Long Gary Rudnick P.C. of Eugene, Ore. -- at a taxpayer cost of $150,000, a City Council report shows.

After wrangling with the city for months, in January Jackson County Judge G. Philip Arnold warned Bullock against filing future "frivolous" lawsuits against the city. Arnold said for future Bullock lawsuits deemed frivolous he would have the plaintiffs pay court costs.

"Just as a citizen ought to have the right to seek redress against a government, a government ought to be free from frivolous or unmeritorious claims which cost that government significant amounts of money," Arnold wrote in his ruling.

Shaw said Arnold's ruling marked a turning point in Bullock's legal wrangling with the city, saving taxpayers money.

"Many people were delighted that the judge came down on Art Bullock and his cohorts," she said.

From Legal Newsline: Reach reporter Chris Rizo at chrisrizo@legalnewsline.com.

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