Ever wonder why we're the largest Oregon city without an elected mayor, or speculated on why there are only two council members representing the east side compared to the five from the west side? Thought about running for council but economic factors barred you from considering it, since it's essentially a volunteer position?
All of those elements are dictated by the City of Bend Charter. Its current incarnation was last reviewed 22 years ago—but that might all change if the City Council decides a Charter review is important enough to revisit this year.
A citizen panel formed by Bend 2030, the Bend Chamber of Commerce and City Club of Central Oregon presented a Charter Review Report last Wednesday before the Bend City Council. The report was based on two forums held last year. Here's a look at the findings and what could happen next.
To Elect or Not to Elect
Back when our community was a logging town the burden of running a mayoral campaign outweighed the need — but with Bend poised to swell 40 percent by 2028, many think that needs to change. "From last review, we've gone from 30,000 to a mid-sized city of 87,000," said Don Leonard, president of the Boyd Acres Neighborhood Association and member of the citizen panel. "We really feel it's time for a charter review. A serious charter review."
Richard Ross, a panel member who has 30 years of experience in community planning and served 15 years as staff support to two Gresham mayors, says the issues are becoming increasingly complex. "Bend is facing more complex problems than the good old days," he says. An elected mayor serving for four years may be an ideal way to tackle those intricate issues in a steadfast and progressive manner. Bend 2030 Executive Director Erin Foote Morgan, notes that Bend doesn't have a stable and constant representative at the state and federal levels. She points to neighboring cities like Redmond as prime examples of cities that are moving forward quickly because of an invested mayor. "George Endicott is synonymous with Redmond. And it matters to have a face for a city," said Foote Morgan.
Not In It for the Money, Honey
The panel also raised the issue of raising the stipend for council members, currently set at $200 and unchanged since 1995. Comparing stipends in similar cities in size and governance, Bend comes in almost dead last.
The panel argued that with the long-term issues Bend faces, volunteer counselors have less time to focus and research tricky issues when most have a day job. Although there is a worry that increasing wages might draw career politicians, members argued that perhaps it's not a bad thing to have those truly invested and engaged in the issues helping run the city. Ross noted, "Higher pay is representative of the value of the council."
The current structure also discourages those from all economic backgrounds to run because they do not have the time or economic flexibility to participate. At Wednesday's meeting, however, the citizen panel concluded that ultimately the wage issue bogged down the conversation, recommending the City take it out of the Charter as to not hinder progress. They noted that most other cities have a special committee that determines independently what the council pay should be.
The Great Divide: East vs West
The citizen panel also recommended dividing the city into geographical wards, ensuring that one representative of each ward would be elected to represent that area's changing needs. In the Charter Review Report, 98 percent of participants agreed that councilors from each ward must reside in the area that they represent— a change of pace from the current council where five members live on the west side.
Bill Galaway, panel member and member of the SE Neighborhood Association, noted it would strengthen the connection with neighborhood associations. "Maybe two or three neighborhoods would now be in one ward, and it would make them more relevant than today." The report concluded that residents were in favor of either a four or six ward system, with perhaps two council members and the major not being associated with any ward. It might also lessen the cost of City Council elections as the voter pool narrows from 80,000 to "approximately 8,000," says Galaway.
Although councilors seemed largely in favor of a Charter review, Mayor Casey Roats instilled some hesitation in the ambitious timeline set forth by the panel — which wanted a Charter Review Committee set up immediately. That committee would include city councilors and citizens, and would possibly aim for referendum set for November 2017, with possible implementation of any changes by November 2018, when the new City Council would take over.
City Attorney Mary Winters cautioned: "My experience is, don't go into it naive, it will take longer than you think. A lot of people have really good opinions and you want the community involved."
Comments about Charter Review can be directed to: