Councilor Barb Campbell proposed last week that the city of Bend’s communications staff should monitor statements made by councilors and tell the public when the statements are “just plain false.”
It’s a terrible idea. City staff should not be the thought police for the City Council.
Campbell said one reason she suggested it was Councilor Bill Moseley’s Facebook posts. She challenged Moseley in the same meeting because he continues “to post on Facebook things that are untrue.”
“We have a communications department,” she wrote to us in an email. “We trust them to be the ones to answer citizen questions in an unbiased way. The City of Bend has social media accounts they maintain. I would rather have a professional correct the facts. I do not want to participate in never-ending campaign season.”
Here are some of the posts she challenged:
• “Priorities: $400,000 for one giant bus or for our roads? The Bend system averages less than 2 riders per bus!” Moseley wrote in a post.
Campbell said the buses are not giant. The floors lower to be more accessible, and that is correct. She added that the number of riders per bus is “simply, verifiably false.”
Frankly, it’s hard to know if the ridership number is true or false. He told us he got the estimate from a COIC board member. We contacted COIC for clarification and did not hear back. But COIC does not appear to collect data that way. According to COIC documents, Bend’s bus system had nearly 11 riders per revenue hour in March. That doesn’t tell you directly about average ridership per bus, though. An email a COIC staffer sent to Moseley gets a bit closer. The email said there are about 3.5 passenger miles per vehicle revenue mile.
• “Council just voted to spend $11 million of our street construction budget on bikeways, sidewalks and Westside roads — delaying Empire and Murphy road completion for 5 to 10 years,” he posted on March 23. Campbell pointed out that the council did dedicate some money to Empire and Murphy. But it is true that not spending more does delay Empire and Murphy.
• There were two posts having to do with finding more money for roads.
“Bend is not a wealthy city, but a little bit of austerity will enable us to fix our roads. The city needs to show it can be frugal just like Bend families,” he posted on March 14. And then he followed up with: “A bit of belt tightening yielded an extra $1.6 million for fixing our roads last night.” Campbell said that was robbing Peter to pay Paul. That’s one way to look at it. But you could also argue it is changing the city’s priorities to focus more on roads.
City staff reaches out to councilors if they are concerned that a councilor does not seem to understand something. That’s appropriate. But city staff should not be tasked with policing all the public statements of councilors and stamping them as true or false. So many statements councilors make are opinions that defy such easy labeling. Councilors should be the ones calling each other out if they spread false information.