Citizen Group Recommends Changes to Bend City Charter

L-R: Mayor Pro Tem Sally Russell, Councilor Justin Livingston, Mayor Casey Roats, Councilor Bruce Abernethy, Councilor Barb Campbell, Councilor Nathan Boddie, and Councilor Bill Moseley. Courtesy: City of Bend.

Originally published in the Bend Chamber Business Edition – February 2, 2017

With support from Bend Chamber of Commerce, Bend 2030, and the City Club of Central Oregon, a group of Bend citizens have explored the city’s current governance model. Based on input from two citizen meetings last year, the Bend City Governance committee presented their findings in front of the city council last night. According to the report, the citizen’s input group favors a publicly elected mayor as well as the creation of a ward system to give all citizens in Bend fair representation in city council.

Presented by Brent Landels, Kathleen Meehan Coop, Bill Galaway, Richard Ross, and Don Leonard, the group highlighted the findings from the citizen’s input meeting in November last year.

According to the report, there is a perception among the citizen input group that the city charter is not working for everyone in Bend. There is also a perception among the attendees that Bend lacks clear visionary leadership, as well as the fact the city is not strongly represented at local, state, and federal levels. In addition, the report stressed at this time there is not an equitable representation across the city, with most council and city committee positions predominantly filled by Westside residents.The last time the city charter was fully reviewed was in 1995. Twenty-two years later Bend has grown considerably. In 1995, there were only 30,000 people living in Bend. Today, the city is home to more than 87,000 people, an approximately 65% population increase.

The citizen’s meetings took place in September and November last year. Both meetings were attended by a diverse group of Bend citizens. The outset for the meetings was to take a deep dive into the current governance model to make suggestions on how it can be changed for the better.

The September meeting attracted approximately 75 attendees. The event speakers included League of Oregon Cities General Counsel, Sean O’Day; Bend Mayor Jim Clinton; City Councilor Victor Chudowski; and former Bend Mayor Oran Teater. The presentations were wide-ranging and included both a historic view of Bend’s charter as well as a look at the Oregon Cities model charter. Chudowski told the audience that the Bend’s Eastside is currently under-represented on the city council, with most of the councilors living on Bend’s Westside. After the presentations, the attendees were divided into four groups to consider the four main objectives of the November citizen input meeting.

  • What are the most important questions involved in whether Bend should have an elected mayor?
  • What are the most important questions involved in whether Bend should have a ward system?
  • What are the most important questions in whether to substantially increase councilor pay or give them staff
  • What other questions should be considered during charter review?

The November 1 citizen input meeting gathered approximately 100 citizens who got an opportunity to answer the questions posed during the previous meeting. Before the public input section of the meeting began, Rick Allen, a longtime Central Oregonian who has served as elected member or city manager of several governments in the region, made a presentation to the audience that covered perceived issues around elected mayors and ward systems, the need for a periodic charter review, and the value of public input during the review.

After Allen’s talk, the attending group of citizens went to work, recording their views on the four major questions, in addition to noting pros and cons to electing a mayor, the creation of a ward system, council pay and staff support, and opening the charter for a full review.

The current council commended the report from the Bend City Governance committee. Several of the current councilors voiced their support for the findings, among them Mayor Roats and councilors Abernethy and Boddie.

The representatives from the governance committee stressed the fact that it is time for a review of the city charter, and suggested an aggressive time line that would put the recommendations from a Charter Review committee to a city-wide vote in November 2017. The process would include taking public input throughout the summer to prepare a ballot referendum for the fall elections.

Referring to the council’s upcoming work planning meeting, Mayor Roats reminded the council there are many large issues in front of the councilors, and commented that the Bend City Governance committee schedule may be a bit ambitious. City Attorney Mary Winters also told the councilors a charter review is a major undertaking.

The decision about opening the charter for a full review is now in the hands of the city council. Depending on the upcoming planning meeting, the councilors may decide to add the charter review to their list of major undertakings for the 2017 session.