An elected mayor should serve a four-year term and make significantly more than $200 a month, a citizen committee reviewing Bend’s charter decided Tuesday.
The committee will present its recommendations on changes to Bend’s mayor position and electing councilors from four geographic areas to Bend’s City Council on Dec. 6. Any changes will need to be approved by the City Council and Bend voters.
A two-year term, such as Bend’s mayor serves now, provides enough time to get up to speed but not necessarily enough time to execute his or her vision, committee member Kathleen Meehan Coop said. One of the main reasons Bend is looking at electing a mayor instead of having councilors continue to select a mayor from among themselves is to have the mayor, as political head of the city, develop a long-term vision for Bend.
“If you run on a platform with a vision, sometimes implementing the vision takes time,” she said.
Committee member Richard Ross said he has lived and worked in towns with directly elected mayors, and it’s always possible that a mayor could flame out in a year or less. That could be an argument for a two-year term, he said, but a four-year term would allow more stability.
“I think there’s a much bigger risk for Bend in not having a long-term vision for the city,” Ross said.“You risk having a municipal government that’s afraid to make tough decisions.”
A two-year mayoral term also would mean the mayor could be frequently running for re-election, and thus always trying to raise money, committee co-chairman Brent Landels said.
“If we’re making someone perpetually running for election, then they’re perpetually fundraising and that’s not a good thing to be moving toward in politics.”
City staff have also noticed increased political posturing on Facebook and during televised meetings from councilors seeking re-election, City Attorney Mary Winters said. From a staff perspective, anything that can be done to reduce politicized decisions would help, she said.
“It isn’t just the money,” Winters said. “It’s the politicization of local government.”
Dan Fishkin, the only supporter of a two-year term, said he didn’t see a risk of instability or continued fundraising if a mayor serves two years.
“You have congresspeople and senators who have been there for 20 years because their constituents like them,” Fishkin said. “It’s not perforce two years equals instability.”
The four-year term also makes sense with an increase in salary, Meehan Coop said. Councilors and the mayor all now earn $200 a month, an amount that hasn’t increased since 1995.
“If we’re not paying the person, we can’t ask someone to volunteer for four years,” Meehan Coop said. “But if we want someone to really have the longevity, we should pay them for it.”
The committee unanimously recommended removing council pay from the city’s charter, which means it could be changed without a citywide vote. Committee members recommended creating an independent compensation committee that would recommend salaries or other compensation for councilors to approve or reject.
Oregon law prohibits elected officials from setting their own salaries, so any increases would only take effect after an election.
The charter review committee also will tell the council to consider a “significant increase in compensation” for the mayor, without agreeing on any set number.
A 90-minute presentation on Dec. 6 will include the mayor recommendations and an explanation of a proposed ward system, as well as other, less-developed proposals meant to increase diversity in candidates for City Council and city committees. The City Council could consider developing guidelines to consider diversity in all committee selections, encouraging candidates who might not otherwise run, and having an independent committee, not just the City Council, redraw ward maps after each census, committee member Anne George said.
The committee also will recommend a comprehensive charter review every few years.
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