After 5 months in office, it may be time to look in on how the new Bend City Council is doing. Forget for a moment the back-room maneuvering to seize the Mayorship, to freeze out sitting Councilors Clinton and Barram, to hold meetings with special interests devoid of public notice and the blatant violation of conflict of interest ethics by appointing a Juniper Ridge Advisory Board member to fill a vacant Council seat: I'm talking here about comparing the slate's rhetoric with their records five months into their terms.
Recall that they ran on a platform of fiscal responsibility, economic development and keeping fees low. In turn, they won huge financial support from local realtors' and builders' groups; in effect, in the opinion of many, buying their seats. Let's take a look: how are the campaigners faring as Councilors?
First: fiscal responsibility. Where have they saved taxpayer dollars? I can't think of any instances. Can you? Anyone? In fact, it's going to get worse. Ignoring long-mandated accessibility improvements in the range of many millions of dollars, which Council retreads Teater and Eckman helped propagate in the first place through their look-the-other-way-so-our-buddies-can-profit-without-adhering-to-the-law actions, will result in a massive legal bill soon coming due. It's way beyond time for these people to tend to the realities of the job and assume accountability for running a City responsibly, and do more than pander to the special interest groups that purchased their seats. Cronyism is not a proxy for competence.
Next up: economic development. Certainly, the economic mess Bend finds itself in can be blamed on a variety of factors, only some of them local, but when one boasts of creating jobs and reviving the economy in a campaign, then it's only fair to ask how that's coming along. And how is it coming along? Again, the reality stands opposite the rhetoric. We're bleeding jobs to the point of having one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation, foreclosures are setting records and almost all economic indicators are down. If then-candidates Eager, Greene and Eckman hadn't made economic vitality such a central part of their campaign, they might look credible now. As it is, they have to be accountable for their words, and for the total absence of follow-through.
Finally: keeping fees low. In the latest COBA-led comedy, the builders' group paid an outside consultant 60K in the hopes that their 'independent assessment' might result in a 3rd-party recommendation that the Community Development Department not raise building and land use fees. Their mouthpiece actually crowed that the reason they thought the 60K was a good use of money was that the same consultant had found Redmond and Sisters shouldn't raise fees. And what happened? It came back that the fee increases were entirely warranted, in fact overdue. Solid! Now there's a good use of 60K for a group that clearly has a lot of money to burn. I'd love to see their, ahem, "leadership" explain that one to the membership: who do you blame this time? The President?
In a final ignominy, Eckman voted against the fee increase anyway. In this sense she was in fact consistent with her campaign rhetoric, as she's often said 'the reason people aren't building is the high permit fees'. Sure, this statement is beyond ridiculous, but I must tip my cap to her consistency.
I understand that it may look unseemly for a former Councilor to criticize current ones. I wish it wouldn't be necessary, and that they were moving our city in the right direction. But as all of us should understand, and as we know citizens demand, the bottom line is one of performance. Perhaps this letter can serve as a gentle nudge in the general direction of accountability and leadership.
If there is disagreement on any of the above, I would ask the Councilors to publish their voting records (which none of them other than Barram do) and to show us how their actions and votes match their words. Feel free to respond to this letter, but do so publicly.
Editor's Note: The author is a former Bend City Council member who divides his time between Bend and Portland where he serves as the chair of the College of Drafting and Design at ITT Tech.