Bend is in the middle of two major capital projects—a whitewater park and the Simpson Pavilion ice rink. Moreover, there are also several issues swirling around Bend Park & Recreation District (BPRD) regarding what role the agency should play in creating and preserving "livability" in the region.
Without a compelling reason to do so, it is not a smart time to change the leadership of BPRD. For re-election, the Source endorses the current BPRD Board Chair, Dan Fishkin. He is well versed in the current projects, and has been calmly handling their completion. Although there are still detractors for the planned ice rink—which is funded by a 2012 voter-approved bond measure—those complaints are falling behind the curve, as the decision has already been made. Fishkin showns no reason to doubt that he will adequately bring this project to completion, and while the two candidates challenging him are both smart and engaging, they don't provide a strong reason to pull Fishkin out of the game in the middle of the third quarter.
There are two additional issues that have been placed front-and-center in this race: Whether to preserve Mirror Pond, and the so-called "system development charges" (SDCs).
Within the Mirror Pond discussion, there are distinct differences between the two challengers: Foster Fell believes that it should be returned to a free-flowing river, while Brady Fuller stands behind preserving the pond. For some, these differences may be enough to vote for either candidate, but we believe that the BPRD has a much more complete agenda than a single topic.
The other issue that has consumed much of the campaign is SDCs, and whether BPRD should waive those fees as an incentive to build more affordable housing. That topic has been used to distinguish between Fishkin and Fuller; however, philosophically, the two candidates do not seem to differ greatly on the topic.
An opinion piece published in the daily paper said that SDCs should be the campaign's most important issue, and the newspaper based its endorsement of Fuller on favoring waiving SDCs.
"Making [SDCs] a Park issue is disingenuous," Fishkin continued. "[The proposed amount] is too little to make a difference," he said, noting that affordable housing is "a problem definitely deserving of a solution." His concern with the proposed exemption is that, since SDCs pay for growth-related needs, it may take away services from low-income families.
But, Fishkin is not a crusader for specific issues, and he went on to explain that he is not against waiving SDCs, but believes that if done, then it should be done more robustly. "If we decide to do a waiver," he explained, "it will be meaningful."
Ultimately, the candidates do not seem to disagree on the general intent of the waivers. Fuller has done his due diligence and provided case-studies during the endorsement interview, but again, BPRD is in the middle of this conversation and Fishkin shows no signs of mishandling the process.
Fishkin also pointed out that waiving SDCs would require a reduction in Park & Rec services, as the budget would shrink (in the neighborhood of $300,000 to $1 million).
"It is counter intuitive," he said, "decreasing services and taking away services from people who have lower incomes."
We liked all three candidates. But Fell, a local activist with a history of running for open positions, is not the best person for the job—and he seems to know that. When asked why he was best suited, he responded that he sees himself more as a conduit for the people than as the ideal candidate. In fact, he said that he encouraged others to run and even hung around the election office until the very last minute before filing, all in the hopes that someone else would take up the causes he is so passionate about.
When it comes to public process, Fell's approach and position are appealing. He doesn't merely give lip service to engaging constituents, but is out in the community, talking to regular folks on a regular basis. At the last City Council meeting, a young mother spoke about public transit during the visitor's section at the urging of "Barb's husband," referencing Fell, the partner of Councilor Campbell, even though she could not recall his name.
Moreover, his dedication to preserving a free-flowing river, rather than upholding a problematic postcard scene, is both principled and reflects the public opinion of a significant portion of the community. Although many have held that Mirror Pond should be preserved come hell or high water because it is iconic, Fell talked about the river that flows through Boise, Idaho, and how that is iconic to the residents there. Yes, we agree, change is okay.
But again, we do not agree that now is the time for change at BPRD. Fishkin has done an effective job as a Board Director, and clearly has an aptitude for big picture management of Park & Rec business. He knows the terrain and approaches the job without a discernable agenda.
Our endorsement is for Fishkin.