Bend residents would elect one councilor each from four wards and two at large under a proposal a committee reviewing the city’s charter will recommend to the Bend City Council in December.
The committee voted 7-2 Tuesday to select a ward system — and a map that outlines the ward boundaries — after spending the past several months debating how many wards the city should have and what they should look like. On Tuesday, they chose from four possible maps, two with four wards and two with three.
The council will have 90 minutes to discuss the wards on Dec. 6, City Manager Eric King said, and the council is expected to make a decision later in December or January before voters make the final call in May.
If the City Council decides to send a decision on wards to voters, the maps would likely be included as voter information but not placed on the ballot, City Attorney Mary Winters said. That will allow the city to redraw wards every 10 years after the census without having to get voter approval for new maps.
The committee’s choice Tuesday for a four-ward map places one ward in the southwest, one in a central area, one in the southeast and one in the northeast.
The map clearly shows communities of common interest, committee member Richard Ross said. The southwest ward is an education district with Oregon State University-Cascades and Central Oregon Community College, the northeastern ward is a medical district with St. Charles Bend and both the southeast and northeast wards are major expansion areas, he said. The central ward encompasses Bend’s urban core and most of the Deschutes River, Ross said.
“It connects a strong central district which has surrounding neighborhoods to the downtown,” he said. “It has the Old Mill and it has the new central district included in it.”
Under the proposed ward map, Mayor pro tem Sally Russell, and councilors Nathan Boddie, Barb Campbell and Bill Moseley all live in the central ward, Mayor Casey Roats and Councilor Justin Livingston both live in the southeastern ward, and Councilor Bruce Abernethy lives in the western ward.
According to a Bulletin analysis of the partisan leanings of each potential ward, the map creates two strongly Democratic wards, one moderately Democratic ward and one swing ward. City councilors are elected on nonpartisan ballots and most city business has little to do with national party politics, but county parties do endorse candidates and partisan leanings do come into play in some city decisions.
When drafting ward map proposals, the city followed common districting guidelines that require districts to be compact and contiguous, use existing political or geographic boundaries and avoid diluting the votes of any minority groups. Each drafted map encompassed several voting precincts.
The map the committee settled on doesn’t divide the city into quadrants like another option would, but it’s a better alternative because it groups communities of common interest together, committee member Anne George said.
“I think we’ve been really thoughtful on why we selected these maps,” she said. “My concern is that we’re just making something that looks pretty on a map. I don’t want to put forward a system that just looks pretty.”
The committee will also recommend electing one councilor from each ward, with only residents of the ward voting for that candidate. Committee member Angela Chisum, who supported citywide voting instead, said the committee’s recommendation could lead to ward councilors dedicated to representing only their ward.
“(Citywide voting) makes those running dedicated to representing the city,” she said. “They have to please everyone, as well as the people represented in their zone.”
If councilors start out representing only their neighborhoods, that’s OK, said committee member Don Leonard. They’re still only one voice on the council.
“That person has still got to convince six other councilors or five other councilors and the mayor to go their way,” he said.
Either three at-large councilors or two councilors and an elected mayor will be elected citywide. Because of the way elections for the seven-member council are staggered out, the four ward councilors would be elected in 2020 and the other three would be on the ballot in 2018.
The charter review committee will meet next on Nov. 28 to decide how long an elected mayor’s term should be and whether to change councilor pay, which is now $200 a month.
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