By Marina Starleaf Riker

The Bulletin

If you go

What: Bend city charter review forum

When: 5-7 p.m. Tuesday and Nov. 1

Where: Central Oregon Collective, 62070 27th St., Bend


Since 1990, Bend has grown from a town of slightly more than 24,000 to a city of around 80,000, with dozens of people moving to the area each month. Yet despite Bend’s rapid growth, the structure of its city government has remained largely unchanged in the last two decades.

In response, local organizations are asking Bend residents whether they think Bend’s city government is due for a change. Some of Bend’s elected officials say it is.

“Bend is stuck with a small-town government system from when it was a small town,” said Bend Mayor Jim Clinton. “And it’s not anymore — it’s a city, and it has a lot of complex issues.”

The Bend Chamber of Commerce, City Club of Central Oregon and Bend 2030 on Tuesday are hosting the first of two public forums at the Central Oregon Collective, a community center on Bend’s east side. Bend residents are asked to weigh in about whether it’s time to review the city charter, which is like Bend’s constitution. Their feedback will be compiled into a report, which will go to the Bend City Council early next year for review.

Right now, the Bend City Council is elected by local voters and each of the seven councilors serve a four-year term. The councilors elect a mayor and mayor pro tem — sort of like a vice mayor — from among themselves, and there isn’t any requirement as to where the councilors must live in the city.

This form of government has drawn complaints from residents and city officials who say it may not equally represent residents living on the east and west sides of the city. Another concern is whether a stipend of $200 a month is enough to attract the most qualified applicants for the Bend City Council.

The biggest change in the past couple of decades was in 1995, when a new charter was adopted that switched Bend’s government from a commission to a city council and started paying councilors a $200 monthly stipend. But since then, there have been few changes, despite a population boom that added nearly 50,000 people. In 2002, the charter was changed to require a majority vote on sales tax; then in 2004, it was amended to require candidates to run by city council position instead of at-large.

One of the questions at Tuesday’s event is whether Bend residents — particularly those on Bend’s east side — feel that all parts of the city are represented by the current system.

A 2015 investigation by The Bulletin found that despite having nearly 5,000 more registered voters, only one of 12 people who make up the City Council and Park & Recreation District board lived on Bend’s east side.

“Things are terribly skewed in the city toward the west side,” said Councilor Victor Chudowsky. “They definitely get screwed under the current system.”

Chudowsky is in favor of adopting a ward system, which would require that each councilor represent a different part of the city. That could help ensure that residents in Bend have a voice no matter where they live, and increase government accountability by giving them a point person to go to for neighborhood issues, Chudowsky said.

“The current system is elected at-large, but that means that none of us are individually responsible,” Chudowsky said. “It’s up to us if we want to act or not. There’s no direct accountability for solving these neighborhood kinds of problems.”

Meanwhile, the mayor said he’s in favor of a hybrid system — some councilors would be chosen to represent specific parts of the city, while others would be elected citywide. Having some councilors elected to represent Bend as a whole could prevent the council from being divided in half by those who live on the east and west sides of the city, Clinton said.

Another big question for Clinton and other city officials is whether councilors should be paid more than $200 a month.

“Is it realistic to expect somebody to do at least what is a half-time job for free?” Clinton asked. “We all try to do the best job we can, but jeez, let’s be realistic here.”

While some councilors worry paying councilors more could attract people looking for a job rather than those looking to improve the city, Clinton said he supports hiring councilors part time. That could save money in the long run by paying councilors — instead of city staff — to do things such as gather public input on big projects such as installing sewer lines or working with community organizations to draft new city policies, he said. Plus, it could also attract more qualified candidates and allow them to spend more time on the job, he said.

Councilor Sally Russell said she’s known several Bend professionals who decided not to run for city council because they couldn’t afford to take the time off of work.

“If you really want a councilor engaged and they’re spending between 15 and 60 hours a week and you’re paying them $200 a month, who are you going to get?” said Russell.

The meeting Tuesday will also examine whether Bend should elect its mayor. Right now, Bend is one of only 19 cities in Oregon — out of 241 — that don’t elect their mayors, according to the League of Oregon Cities. Bend is by far the largest city where the mayor isn’t elected by residents, with Baker City — which has a population of about 9,000 — as the next-largest on that list.

“A city this size would be much better off with an elected mayor,” Clinton said. “An elected-mayor position could provide some continuity longer than two years and could establish relationships to bring outside money into Bend.”

­— Reporter: 541-633-2160,