A charter amendment that clears the way for Bend City Council members to receive a pay raise passed citywide, but it received significantly stronger support on the west side of town than on the east side, according to precinct-level election results released this week by the Deschutes County Clerk’s office.
Bend residents had the chance to vote on two amendments to the city’s charter. One asked if Bend’s mayor should be an elected position, and the other asked if councilor stipends should be removed from the city’s charter, clearing the way for councilors and the mayor to take home a few hundred more dollars a month.
Electing the mayor passed by nearly a 3-1 measure citywide and received support from at least 65 percent of voters in every individual precinct.
The pay amendment, meanwhile, passed citywide with 54 percent of the vote. Seven precincts, all west of the Bend Parkway and north of Reed Market Road, had higher approval rates than the city as a whole. The amendment failed in six precincts in southeast Bend, and the remaining seven precincts in northeast and southwest Bend approved it at tighter margins than the city as a whole.
The results appear at odds with a contention among some supporters that raising council pay could lead to increased geographic diversity. The east side of Bend has a lower median income and less representation on the City Council — only two Councilors, Barb Campbell and Justin Livingston, live east of the parkway.
Kathleen Meehan Coop, who served on the city’s charter review committee and led the committee that recommended mayor and councilor pay, said she could understand why people living in underrepresented areas might not want to pay councilors more.
“I think sometimes, just in general, people are concerned about representatives receiving more pay if they don’t feel like they’re being represented,” Meehan Coop said.
Council pay has been set at $200 per month since 1995, the last time voters approved changes to the charter. The May vote means two city councilors elected in November will earn $533 a month, and the city’s first elected mayor will make $1,066 a month. The remaining four city councilors will continue earning $200 per month until after they, or their replacements, are sworn in following the 2020 election.
The stipend amount will adjust automatically every two years based on federal estimates of median income in Bend. Councilors will receive 10 percent of the median income, while the mayor will receive 20 percent of the median income.
The City Council is expected to appoint a committee every five years, starting in 2023, to review whether the compensation makes sense and recommend any changes.
Brent Landels, a co-chairman of the city’s charter review committee who lived in southeast Bend until last month, said he thought the economics of town determined why the vote was higher on the west side than the east side. He said he doubted that most voters had heard an argument that paying councilors more would make it easier for east-side residents to afford to take on what amounts to an intense part-time job.
“I don’t think that argument made it to the electorate,” he said. “I think it was just a knee-jerk reaction to paying these people more.”
Still, Landels said he hoped that the higher pay would result in more representation from residents who live east of Bend.
Election results correlated with the partisan tilt of some precincts. Paying councilors higher stipends was more popular in precincts that lean more Democratic than Republican.
The measure lost in the two Bend precincts where registered Republicans outnumbered registered Democrats and nonaffiliated voters. It was close — receiving between 48.4 percent and 52.6 percent of the vote — in the six precincts where party-less voters outnumber Democrats and Republicans. And it had its best showings in the precincts where Democrats most outnumber Republicans.
The pay amendment performed best in Precinct 3, which includes NorthWest Crossing and has more registered Democrats than any other precinct in Deschutes County.
That precinct was where Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and Mayor Pro Tem Sally Russell did best in 2016, according to a Bulletin analysis.
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