BEND, OR -- Bend City Councilors failed to agree this week on what changes to the city’s charter should go to voters, although they acknowledged the timeline to get something on the May ballot is tight.
Some Councilors worry a proposed ward system would mean future Councilors could be elected by a small group of voters. Charter Review Committee co-chair Brent Landels says nearly all of Oregon’s largest cities use some version of wards and a lot of time was spent developing the proposed map. He agrees it’s not perfect nor was the committee unanimous; but he feels it’s the best option. "The Oregon Secretary of State has, for years, has had in place rules for establishing wards or voting districts, or that type of thing." He tells KBND News, "You have to use existing political boundaries. So, in the city, you’re typically going to end up with the voter districts – which is what we used – and then each of the wards has to be +/- 5% for population. So, we couldn’t just do a straight north/south line and a straight east/west line." While most of the sitting Council lives in what would become Ward Two or Ward Four, based on the proposed map, Landers says the Committee didn't discuss their residency. "One of the rules is we absolutely cannot look at how it would impact anybody who is currently an active politician, an active City Councilor or Mayor, or how it would impact anybody who has announced they would be running." The committee proposes a mixed system where four Councilors are elected from a "ward" or region of the city, while the other two are elected at large, as they are now.
The committee presented recommendations to Council this week, including the removal from the charter of any reference to how much elected officials are paid. Although, Landels says they did not discuss the actual amount of pay, "An independent advisory committee would then recommend to City Council what they should do what the Councilors are being paid and what the Mayor would be being paid. One of the interesting things about the ethics laws of Oregon: anybody who is currently on the Council cannot vote themselves a raise. So, anything that they did decide to do upon advice from the advisory committee would not impact that particular Councilor that was voting on it."
Councilors did agree the city needs a directly elected Mayor, but failed to reach a consensus on when that first election should occur or for how long that Mayor would serve. Landels would like to see the transition begin as soon as possible, "If everything passes, the November election would have the Mayor and two at-large Councilors, so they would be elected exactly the same way they are today. The 2020 election, the four Councilor positions that would be open at that time, those four would be geographically – or more geographically – assigned." Current Mayor Casey Roats suggested the committee’s recommendations could be phased in over several election cycles, if approved by voters.
Councilors plan to start their next meeting - December 20 - earlier than normal, to allow public feedback on the committee's recommendations before deciding what to put on the May ballot.