Back in August 1876, Seth Bullock arrived in Deadwood, Dakota Territory, a mere one day before Wild Bill Hickok was killed while playing cards in a saloon. That quintessential Wild-West shooting prompted the local community to appoint Bullock the first Sheriff of Deadwood, right on the spot. No election, no community input. That was just the way things were run back then.
Fast forward to Bend in 2016, where city councilors are still paid a mere $200 a month. They might only work part-time, but you could still spend more on a night of dinner and artisan cocktails than the city councilors are paid for a month's work—and for that they're responsible for shaping the direction of our growing city. (By contrast, Deschutes County Commissioners are paid $88,312 per year and work full-time.)
The City of Bend's political structure might have worked in our Wild West era, but in the modern world, in a city with a need for guided insight toward growth, that's not enough. Our city councilors are well-meaning people who have the city's best interests at heart – but to maintain an unpaid public position on that salary, it's almost a requirement to be independently wealthy, or to have attention directed toward interests which will support the councilor and their family. Does that make for a fair representation of our populace? Nope.
Bend's format of city governance was established in 1929. Granted, its city councilors are elected by the public—but that council then has the power to choose a mayor with no public vote, and to hire a city manager who is responsible for all operations. While both the Deadwood method and the Bend method had their place way back when, it's time for a more modern approach.
The current City Charter model creates an imbalance of power within the city ranks. When a city manager and the city staff are paid and city councilors are (basically) not, the power—and the investment of time needed to tackle tough issues such as urban growth, infrastructure and affordable housing—naturally leans toward city staff.
Leadership and representation are also problematic under the current City Charter. Back when Bend was a small mill town, allowing the city's mayor to be appointed by peers was not all that strange. People were used to having less say in things. Today, an elected mayor would allow residents to clearly elect the face —and the guiding force—for the city. Likewise, creating representative districts around the city would allow residents to elect councilors whom voters believe best represent their interests.
On Sept. 20 and Nov. 1, citizens are invited to attend public input forums at the Oregon Collective. The forums will include presentations from the League of Oregon Cities, and a chance for people to weigh in on the possibility of electing our mayor, creating representative districts instead of having councilors-at-large, and whether councilors should be paid more for their jobs. Naturally, that last part is going to stir up questions about how to pay for councilor positions... but since we're no longer in the Wild West era of Bend and we're continuing to see huge growth, it is past time to figure that one out. (And when we do, the citizens of this city will earn the glass slipper...)
Charter Review Forums
5-7 pm, Sept. 20 & Nov. 1
Central Oregon Collective
62070 27th St., Bend