Being mayor of Bend is no big deal. Rather than being elected by popular vote, the mayor is chosen by a vote of his or her fellow city councilors. And the position is largely honorific; the mayor chairs city council meetings, but aside from that has no powers beyond those of any other councilor.
So the City of Bend most likely will survive the selection of Kathie Eckman as its new mayor. Just the same, the choice is disturbing both because of the way it was made and because of what it says about the temperament of the new council majority.
Eckman was elected last November, along with Jeff Eager and Tom Greene, as part of a slate of candidates heavily bankrolled by the real estate and development lobby. She was picked as mayor on the strength of those three votes plus that of Chris Telfer, who immediately waved good-bye to the council to take up her new job as a state senator.
The other contender for the mayor's job, Mark Capell, got his own vote plus those of Councilors Jim Clinton and Jodie Barram.
There are no real rules governing the qualifications of a Bend mayor. But traditionally the council has picked somebody who's already been serving on the council for a while. That tradition makes sense: It helps ensure that the mayor has intimate knowledge of current issues facing the council and of the city staff that the council has to work with and rely on.
Eckman has put in many years on the council in the past, including a stint as mayor, so she knows the ropes to some extent. But her most recent service was six years ago, and Bend has been through a lot since then, including two city managers, explosive growth and a real estate bubble and bust. Capell, who's been on the council for the past two years, is more likely to be up to speed.
Eckman apparently hasn't been very energetic about bringing herself up to speed. According to one former councilor, she was "almost invisible" around City Hall prior to her swearing-in. "The mayor sets the agenda, and for someone who hasn't been involved for six years to take the job, I think that does a disservice to taxpayers," this source said. We agree.
The realtor/developer bloc's installation of Eckman in defiance of custom and in spite of the availability of a better candidate also showed a degree of arrogance bordering on contempt toward those taxpayers and their fellow councilors. The message seemed to be: "We've got the votes, and it's our way or the highway." That might be how they do things in some places, but this ain't Chicago under Richard Daley or Louisiana under Huey Long.
We're hoping - although without much hope - that the mayoral selection won't set the tone for the rest of the tenure of the new council majority. To gently encourage it to behave in a more collegial and considerate manner, we're administering THE BOOT.