Bend park district needs to get back on the right path

Foster Fell /


Published May 12, 2013 at 05:00AM / Updated Nov 19, 2013 at 12:31AM

With more than a little reluctance, I have found it necessary to run for the position of Bend Park & Recreation District (BPRD) director in the May 21 election. Everyone should be a candidate for public office at least once. Win or lose, you do get the rare chance to talk about the issues that matter most to you to a more-or-less receptive community.

In a nutshell, I believe that BPRD is losing its way. Stark evidence for this abides in the November 2012 bond measure, which, like an English muffin at breakfast, left the community split down the middle.

BPRD for its first-ever bond offering chose a medley of controversial projects with, I believe, more intent to appeal to special interests than to satisfy long-standing public needs. Even the inclusion of land acquisition for neighborhood parks in the bond measure was a bit devious. The 30 acres to be purchased does, in fact, meet the comprehensive plan target, but only because — through a bookkeeping trick — the level of service was reduced from two to 1.5 acres per thousand residents in the 2012 Plan Update.

By far, the biggest motivating factor in my decision to run was the incident of Sept. 4, 2012, at the BPRD board meeting. A dozen members of United Senior Citizens of Bend (USCB) had come to speak to the board about their contention that BPRD staff had forced them into leaving the Reed Market Senior Center, for which they had contributed $900,000 in construction costs and countless volunteer hours. That evening, instead of hearing them out, the board left them waiting in the lobby. The chair had the authority to suspend the rules and invite them in, but he chose not to.

Keeping citizens at arms length is not the proper function of a tax-supported public body like BPRD. Nor is creating a charade of a public process, most notably the Mirror Pond so-called “Visioning” project. By now there is universal agreement that the project questionnaire, by limiting the options available to respondents, was a tool intended to bias the survey results toward preserving the pond. While taking the survey, I kept expecting the next question to be: “How much does your heart overflow while gazing upon Mirror Pond? (a) 50 percent; (b) 75 percent, (c) 95 percent; (d) as much as looking upon my newborn baby.”

Most galling of all, final decision-making authority for the fate of Mirror Pond resides in a five-member steering committee. Two-hundred thousand of our taxes support the Mirror Pond Project. For that price, we deserve a binding public referendum.

BPRD employees, whose hard work creates the world-class parks that we love, face demoralizing workplace challenges. Even after the severe budgetary curtailment to the Park Services Department in 2011, which eliminated five positions, they continue to experience cutbacks. We have just learned that 33 employees face reductions in hours to 29 or less, so that BPRD can avoid providing them with affordable health insurance in 2014 per the provisions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

If elected director, I will be a fierce lobbyist for changes to the health care law in Oregon that will finally eliminate employment-coupled health insurance through a system that saves money and covers all Oregonians. House Bill 2922, now making its way through committee in Salem, will meet these goals, if passed.

To be a candidate is a humbling experience. Issues that I believe to be most topical, compelling, and even infuriating, hardly register at all on the public radar. Oh well, one can only try to cultivate one’s own field of democracy and hope that market conditions are favorable for the harvest.