In a democracy, every few years we have the option of throwing out those elected officials who refuse to listen to the people. But really, we'd prefer basic rules that allow us the opportunity to say our piece in the meantime, too.
Bend city council sure isn't making it easy.
Consider its recent decision on the height of buildings in downtown. It's a fairly controversial issue, or at least it was several years ago when the council first decided that buildings near the river, including The Pine Tavern and Bend Brewing Company, could be no taller than 35 feet. No exceptions. No variances.
The point was to protect the river corridor; as you get closer to the river, the buildings get shorter.
But a month ago, the question came back to council wrapped in a larger development code "tune up." It was something of a Trojan Horse, and most of the people who normally pay attention to city code changes—like neighborhood associations—didn't notice the proposal. In fact, it wasn't until after the city council had already held and closed a public hearing on the issue that people realized the city was talking about doing away with the prohibition on variances in that section of downtown.
When residents did finally learn about the changes, half a dozen people showed up at the next meeting with the simple message: Please open the public hearing again and let us testify against this change!
The response from the four-person majority of the council? Um, sorry, you missed your chance.
But, not everyone on council agreed. "Making this decision should be a broader community discussion," said Councilor Mark Capell. "We need to start from scratch on this question."
He went on to recommend re-opening the public hearing on the question, or at least putting it on the agenda for future discussion. But the majority of councilors, all who favored the change on height variances, shrugged off his suggestions.
Frustratingly, this isn't an isolated event. Even Capell, who championed greater public discourse that evening, ironically is just as often on the side of shutting down public input. Capell has been more adamant than anyone that broad public discussion on the water project is off the table despite repeated requests from a wide contingency of Bend to reopen the question.
The Source believes that for robust democratic debate, this process must change. No matter what their position on the question of the day, councilors should adopt new policies to ensure fair and open debate. Simply having the votes to pass an ordinance or resolution is not a fair reason to bypass public discussion.
Our suggestion: For every law or land use change the council considers, it must hold two votes. In the future, the council should hold a public hearing and then a first vote on an issue. Then it should wait at least one month, preferably two, continue that public hearing and then have a second vote.
Our city councilors were elected to represent the people. We'd like to see processes that ensure they know what we have to say. Here's the BOOT.