Last week, representatives from the City of Bend and Visit Bend held a "Tourism 101" forum at the Tower Theatre. Following the brief presentation that covered the way Transient Room Tax dollars are allocated in Bend, a concerned audience member pressed the panel for more information on the definition of the Bend "lifestyle." The audience member was concerned about the way the city is portrayed and sold to newcomers, and whether that aligned with the values of longtime Bend residents.
"I am looking for some leadership here," that audience member said—a sentiment echoed by many who see the drawbacks to living in a city without a mayor voted for by the general population. (The Bend City Council currently chooses the city's mayor from among the sitting councilors.)
Meanwhile, at the State of the City address earlier this month, Mayor Casey Roats hinted at the time-management struggles he and the City Council face as volunteers (earning a $200 monthly stipend).
Given the challenges our growing city faces, it's a positive sign to see the City Council moving forward on an initiative that could ease both of those concerns. Last week, the Bend City Council adopted a resolution that would allow voters to decide on a number of changes to the Bend City Charter. According to a June 23 release from the City of Bend, the city's Charter "establishes the governmental structure and procedures for the city. On June 21, 2017, the Council adopted a resolution to establish a committee to consider and recommend Charter amendments to the voters by May 2018."
Starting in July, a team of up to 11 members will look at a number of pressing issues related to Bend's leadership, including whether to allow for a directly-elected mayor, whether to allow the issue of Council pay to be removed from the Charter and instead to be decided by a Council ordinance, and whether to create a ward system for the City Council positions. If time allows, the Council may also decide whether to take part in the 2015 Model Charter initiative from the League of Oregon Cities.
To the first three, we give our full support. A directly-elected mayor would have to come to the table with a mission and a vision that he or she will have to sell to the voters and promote to the wider community. A ward system would allow the disparate neighborhoods of Bend to have their own representatives, and would do away with the notion that the west side is disproportionally represented on Council. (At present, the majority of councilors live west of Third Street.) And finally, there's the issue of councilor pay. With city budget concerns always at the forefront, we hesitate to say councilors should earn the equivalent of full-time pay—but at the same time, the stipend they currently earn is not enough to even cover the cost of the many coffee meetings they likely take each month.
We voters will have our own chance to decide whether to support these initiatives should they be added to the ballot in May 2018, but the first step is for the City Council to recommend changes to the Charter.
Whether you agree with us or not, you have your chance, right now, to weigh in. The City is seeking applicants for its Charter Review Committee, with applications due by July 10. For more information, check out bendoregon.gov/government/citizen-committees.