In last Friday's edition of the Bulletin, city councilmember Mark Capell did the equivalent of pulling the pin from a grenade and handing to his fellow councilmember. That uncouth "gesture" is part of the brush fire unfolding over Oregon State University's Cascade campus—in particular, the decision to site the campus in southwest Bend.
Over the past year, OSU has been shopping for a location for its soon-to-open four-year campus. In February, it decided on and purchased a 10-acre parcel near SW Century Drive and Chandler Avenue, and began to move forward with its blueprints. As part of that process, city councilmember Jodie Barram has served as a liaison attending community meetings in the adjacent residential neighborhood—and, on Friday, she was the unhappy recipient of Capell's suggestion that she would need to excuse herself from any hearings city council holds about the campus.
Although the process already has advanced beyond the point of site selection, an ad hoc neighborhood group called Truth In Site recently has coalesced in opposition, mainly pointing out concerns about traffic and what it views as threats to livability on the city's west side. Two weeks ago, it hosted a boisterous community meeting, which OSU-Cascade Vice-president Becky Johnson attended. (For a more complete airing of grievances, see our Opinion Section on page 5 - 7. In total, we received more than 10,000 words about the OSU-Cascade campus' location. Although we tripled the amount of space we customarily allow for Letters to the Editor, we still had to edit those down to 4,000 words to try and accommodate!)
Increasingly, city council is being pulled into this firestorm, even though it has no immediate jurisdiction over the site location of OSU-Cascade's campus. (If the matter is considered by a land-use board, city council will serve as the governmental appeal body, and city council also could weigh in on transportation issues.) Yet, in spite of its remote role as a referee to the drama, last week it was thrust to the center of the debate as a letter writing campaign filled the mayor and council's email in-boxes. And then, councilmember Capell pulled city council even deeper into the debate with his quotes in a front page article in Friday morning's Bulletin announcing "OSU site plan may get a hearing."
In the article's third paragraph, Capell suggests that Barram may need to recuse herself from any votes or discussions if city council were to hear an appeal. (Capell also implicated Barram's bias because she was on the Source's advisory committee for our March 27 "Woman of the Year" issue, which evaluated nominations and provided suggestions for criteria for us to use; ultimately, the decision to elect Johnson as "Woman of the Year" was made exclusively by this paper's editorial staff.)
This week, we give the Boot to Capell's actions publicly questioning his fellow councilmember before taking appropriate and professional measures to vet that notion.
This is not the calm or professional manner in which to question a peer's validity or place at the table—especially the member who probably has the most knowledge about the issue.
No. In fact, the way to vet whether another councilmember has a conflict of interest is to present that question to the City of Bend's attorney whose full-time job is to help untangle thorny issues and help councilmembers speak competently on these very issues.
And, Capell knows this first-hand. In 2008, Mary Alice Winters was appointed as the first Bend in-house city attorney by City Manager Eric King. And, this winter, Capell worked with city attorney Winters to consider whether he himself should ethically be allowed to vote on a proposed controversial $30 million water treatment center. The concern was that Capell's own brother works at the engineering firm that designed plans for the water filtration plant. Ultimately, Capell was cleared by Oregon Government Ethics Commission and, days later, cast the swing vote in favor of the filtration plant.
It is only playing by these rules—and not impetuously and publicly impugning a peer—that city council can maintain its credibility as a fair and balanced body.