- Joshua Langlais
- Bend mayoral candidates Bill Moseley, Brian Douglass, Sally Russell and Charles Baer squared off at Bend's first-ever mayor debate with the Bend Chamber Aug. 14.
In May, residents of Bend voted in favor of electing a directly elected mayor—a shift from the previous process of allowing Bend city councilors to name a mayor from sitting city councilors. The deadline to turn in the necessary signatures in order to appear on the November ballot in the mayor's race is Aug. 28—but ahead of that deadline, the Bend Chamber of Commerce held Bend's first-ever mayoral debate Aug. 14 at 10 Barrel East. Four candidates participated, including City Councilors Bill Moseley and Sally Russell, as well as Brian Douglass and Charles Baer.
Below are excerpts of some of the questions moderators asked. Responses have been edited for brevity, while also attempting to maintain the spirit of each candidate's questions.
Q: Staff/Mayor relationship. What do you see as the relationship between the mayor and the staff?
- Joshua Langlais
- Brian Douglass
The first thing I think everybody realizes is that the first day in office I plan to sit down with Eric King and have a conversation with him about how we’re going to move from a strong city manager city government to a strong mayoral management of the city. It’s going to be an interesting transition for the first time, for the first four years which I hope to be able to lay the groundwork so the second time, second mayor comes, that we will have done a lot of the basic groundwork that needs to be done.
I have spent 30 years in the disability rights advocate in Bend, I know virtually all of the department heads that have anything to do with accessibility over these years, I know many of the department heads, staffs, the rank and file and those who are in the field, so I think they know—they’ll know shortly thereafter that they have a friend as mayor but they have one that’s going to hold them accountable and responsible.
I think it’s really important to clarify that what our community voted on—decided to move forward with—was an elected mayor. They did not decide to change the structure of our council-staff relationships… so I not only look forward to a really healthy relationship with our staff but to making sure that when I work with the council, make sure that we can give our staff really good policy direction and to figure out the budget where they can implement our policy and our priorities around the city, I also think it’s really important that the role of mayor not only has to do with working well with our staff and bringing our council together, and soliciting feeback from our community, but also being the emissary throughout the state and basically, part of the job of mayor would be creating those connections and also providing brain work that our city can move forward with. It’s... the tone and the collaboration and the direction we set for our community is very important.
The staff goes a great job and they’re kind of in the background, I would try to bring them more to the forefront. Eric King is an excellent city manager, the results speak for themselves, and I would try to have him out more in front, more in public, because he really is pulling a lot of the strings and he’s doing a great job, so I think I would try to increase the staff’s presence and ability to communicate with the rest of the people instead of just keeping them behind the scenes.
People ask me about this periodically, and my overall experience with the staff at the city of bend is the staff care very deeply about the city and that we need their professionals and expertise to make our city run well, and I say that unequivocally. There’s policy disputes with a staff member or whatever that happens on a council, but unequivocally we have a fine staff. We need to really learn most of all how we can really support our staff effectively. When I first joined council the process we went through to set goals was, we spent the money, and then we were interviewed to ask what kind of projects we wanted to do, and then we gave those through a consultant… the third thing we did was we met for two days and said which one of our projects had majority support, and then the third thing we did was we said let’s put those items, let’s put a header on it and call them goals. So we spent the money, we made the plan and then we set the goals. Council needs to be clearer than that. We need start—if we want the staff to be effective—we have to set a strategic plan, we have to make a plan—or set goals, make a plan, and then allocate the resources and I think our staff will support if if council can be clear on what we want to do.
Q: Tourism has been lifting Bend’s economy through the recession and rebound, but the fiscal year 2018 budget for Visit Bend is expected to be a 9 percent decrease from 2017. Currently, TRT accounts for 13 percent of the city’s general fund—funding for police and fire. How much of the city’s budget should be focused on tourism and marketing compared to past years, and why?
- Joshua Langlais
- Charles Baer
The answer would be less. And the reason would be, people know Bend is a great place to be, everybody wants to come here, we don’t need to say, hey, Bend’s great—everybody already knows it. We don’t need more people coming to Bend; we’ve got enough people coming to Bend… people want to come to Bend and they are, so you know, we don’t need to say come to Bend because they’re already coming to Bend.
I’ve taken on this issue courageously, really. There’s a lot of people in our community that really need tourism as part of their jobs and the local economy. 2017 was actually a record high because of the eclipse that was occurring, so the numbers were a lot higher than they’re going to be, if you level out over a period of years it’s still growing. And currently, right now, 10 percent of our housing is actually taken up in the form of second homes or short-term rentals – 10 percent in a community that is suffering a housing crisis. When our housing costs are going up and up and up we’re continuing to use more of our valuable housing stock for tourism. On top of that, we have a 3.9 percent unemployment. And I can tell you as a business owner, it’s hard to find people to grow my company, you just almost can’t do it right now, and the last thing we need is a creation of low-wage jobs in our community and that’s what tourism brings. I don’t think we can just step off a cliff, I think we need to make a gradual transition, but I think the transition for Bend involves going to higher-wage jobs and an economy not focused so exclusively on tourism.
I think Councilor Moseley and I pretty much agree on that as well or I agree with him. I think that we need to take a serious look at how much more we’re going to spend on tourism and I think Charles is putting that out, people are coming to Bend because people want to come to Bend, I don’t think we need to spend a lot of money to continue to promote that. I realize that the law requires so much of the money that comes in from TRT to be devoted to city services and tourism promotion but I think we need to take a serious look and say I think we’ve got enough money going toward tourism promotion that I think we have a lot of other issues, housing as councilor said is critical, affordable housing as well… a whole series of things. I think it's time just to kind of take a breath and hold the line for a couple of years and concentrate on some things that are equally important because if we don’t have a quality of life here people are not going to be coming to see us because they don’t want to get congested with us on our streets.
You know, interestingly enough, Visit Bend started changing how it was using its marketing dollars in 2014, in 2016 summer tourism was flat and it’s been flat the last two years, the actually increased revenues come from increased rates, but the number of people visiting Bend in the summertime especially has been the same. And those marketing dollars now have been shifted to the other off season months, winter, fall and spring and so what we’re seeing is a more sustained visitation in those months instead of being oversaturated in the summer, so as I said, in the summertime now, our visitation is flat. I think it’s also really important to know that there are really strict laws around how we use our TRT dollars, and 65 percent of the tourism tax dollars go directly into our general fund, and another 4 percent go directly to police and fire. And most of the general fund goes to police and fire. So we have a really important revenue stream and we need to be really careful about what we do with it. On top of that, we’re really, really constrained by the laws that are on the books today, which we’ve tried really hard to shift, but it’s hard…
Q: The group that’s offering to move forward with the dredging of Mirror Pond is looking for the City of Bend to put in about $1 million of a $6.7 million project. Do support that level of funding from the city for the project and if not, is there another solution out there that hasn’t been considered?
That’s a fabulous question.
I want to tell you first of all on Mirror Pond dredging no city money needs to be spent and can be spent. The city doesn’t have the money to put a million dollars into that project. The other partners either don’t want to or they have the money but they’re not going to do that. I believe that there is a solution to Mirror Pond dredging. It’s called the formation of a private, Local Improvement District that can be set up by boundary—I don’t want to share all the boundaries with you because I have it figured it out I’ve shared that before but I don’t believe that the public as a whole needs to dump money into Mirror Pond—and money that we just don’t have. But I know through an LID we can raise all the money we need to dredge that pond and to make it manageable and to manage it for the next 25 years by doing it through an LID, a private LID, not public money.
- Joshua Langlais
- Sally Russell
Yeah, the city of Bend and the community has been looking at solving this problem for probably 15 to 20 years and I certainly have been working on it for a good 10 and it’s difficult, it’s the centerpiece of our city, we think we think we’re going to have a dam, now we know we’re going to have a dam for a while… the walls are crumbling and so we’ve worked together with the park district and Mirror Pond Solutions to identify it as a problem that needs to be solved. I think the funding is really an issue for our community I mean, you know, why put $2 million is what it takes every year to fill our potholes and they’re looking for $6 million so how are we going to get there, I don’t know the answer yet, but I’m hoping that at some point we find a funding stream and we can get this work done. There’s going to be a report at council tomorrow night and I think there will be a lot more options that come to the council and we’re going to have to work our way through it because I’m not (fair) for taking $6 million out of our next budget and putting that and taking it away from all of the other needs we have, but there may be a way to go and I have some ideas.
If we don't do anything with Mirror Pond it’s eventually going to turn into a marsh. That being said, I Plan A, I think most people agree with me, is to leave it alone. It's an iconic part of our city. Now, Plan B, blow up the dam and let the river run wild. And the new land that is created, half of it lawn, part of Drake Park, half of it community garden. Try that for a couple years, if we like it, great, if we don’t like it, dredge it when it’s dry. If you dredge it when it’s dry it will be way easier, and cheaper. And, do it in the winter. Ok, not the summer. And that’s it.
- Joshua Langlais
- Bill Moseley