BEND, OR -- Four Bend residents vying to become the city's first directly elected Mayor faced off in their first debate, Tuesday night, in an event sponsored by the Bend Chamber of Commerce. Current City Councilors Sally Russell and Bill Moseley took part, as well as Brian Douglass, an advocate for people with disabilities, and self-proclaimed President of Earth Charles Baer. They discussed topics like growth, tourism, dredging Mirror Pond, and the role of neighborhood associations in city government.
On Appropriate Representation:
Brian Douglass supports changing to a ward system for city elections, "We need to put our councilors into districts, geographical districts, so they can be accountable to the residents who live in those Districts, and those residents know who to go to when they have a problem." Current City Councilor Bill Moseley says residents wanting to effect change should start in their own neighborhoods, "Is the Bend City Council actually representative of the City? My experience is that might be questionable at times. The neighborhood associations are a legitimate form that gives people a chance to participate." Charles Baer thinks hearing from the public won't always be pleasant, "If I was mayor, I would use eminent domain to create parking structures downtown, now that neighborhood association would be pretty upset, but you know, sometimes you gotta do things, make tough calls as mayor, and that's what I'd do. And, Mayor Pro Tem Sally Russell stands on her record of being accessible to the public she's served as a City Councilor since 2012.
On Tourism and Affordable Housing:
Baer, who wants to ban cars downtown, believes preserving Bend's character is important, "We don't need to say, 'Hey, Bend's great, come here!' Everybody already knows it." He says, "If I was Mayor, every place that we can make a park within a 10-mile radius of Pilot Butte, I would make that a park before they turn them into apartments or shopping centers or whatever." Moseley believes there's too much emphasis on providing housing for tourists, and not enough focus on residents, "Right now, 10% of our housing is taken up in the form of second homes or short-term rentals - 10%! And in a community that is suffering a housing crisis." Russell agrees Bend is great as it is, but she believes it can get even better, "I know that working together, we can create choices that people need to thrive in our community." She added, "We're really changing the face of Bend and we're actually lowering the price of rents; 30% of the housing we've brought in in the last 14 months is multi-family, and we know that rents, according to some rental agencies, have dropped significantly." Douglass says La Pine offers tremendous opportunities for people to purchase land and build homes not too far from where they work in Bend.
On the Septic to Sewer Project:
One heated exchange took place when an audience member asked about the southeast sewer project, requiring homeowners to pay to connect with city infrastructure, which could be cost-prohibitive. Councilor Russell says the sewer system was originally built with federal funds, and that money is no longer available, "In some ways, it's not our problem to solve, but because they're our residents, we've taken this issue on. It's State law, the County enforces the septic, but these are people within our City, and I'm hoping that we find a solution that really works for everybody in this area." Douglass disagrees. "You know, Councilor Russell, I'm amazed at your answer," said Douglass, "To say, 'Well, It's not our problem, It's their problem,' The hell it's their problem; it's our problem. It's everybody in this community's problem!" Councilor Moseley says the City Council has come up with a plan to try equalizing the costs, but he acknowledged there's no perfect solution. Baer suggests if you don't want to pay to tie in to city services, you should not buy a home with a septic system.
Photo: (L-R) Bill Moseley, Brian Douglass, Sally Russell & Charles Baer take part in Tuesday's debate, hosted by the Bend Chamber of Commerce.