Four candidates in the first-ever race for Bend mayor participated in a lively debate Tuesday evening, hosted by the Bend Chamber of Commerce at 10 Barrel’s Eastside Pub.
Bend Mayor Pro Tem Sally Russell, Bend City Councilor Bill Moseley, disability rights advocate Brian Douglass and security guard and self-described former president of Earth Charles Baer, took turns answering questions from the moderators, audience members and each other.
A wide variety of topics were discussed, including, city growth, tourism funding, transportation options, Mirror Pond dredging, arts and culture opportunities and how the candidates would manage relationships with city staff, business owners and neighborhood associations.
How the city should grow and handle tourism was a popular part of the debate.
When asked how much of the city’s budget should be used on tourism marketing compared to past years, the candidates generally agreed that there should be less tourism funding.
Bend has become a popular destination, and the need for tourism funding is not as important as it was during the Great Recession, the candidates concluded.
Moseley added that the tourism economy has led to more low-wage jobs in a city with rising home prices. He proposed gradually limiting tourism funding if possible.
“I don’t think we can just step off a cliff, but I think we need to make a gradual transition,” Moseley said. “But any transition for Bend involves more higher-wage jobs and an economy not focused so exclusively on tourism.”
One audience member asked how they would work to develop more transportation options without being accused of starting a war on cars.
As a disability rights advocate, Douglass said he would make safer bicycle and pedestrian paths a priority for the city.
“We are going to have to get serious and spend the money to take care of the walkability issues,” he said.
Baer said a focus on pedestrians and bicyclists would alleviate parking problems in the city, especially downtown.
Moseley agreed bicycle lanes should be safe, but he said that funding still needs to go toward roadways because that is what the majority of residents rely on.
Moseley warned sometimes funds can only be spent on a bike path or a roadway, and in a sprawling, remote city, road maintenance is a priority.
Russell said it is important to give people the option to walk or bicycle. And if they do, they should feel safe, she said.
“We have people who want to get on their bikes, and they are afraid to,” she said. “They feel it is unsafe.”
As for the question of the city’s financial role in dredging Mirror Pond, the candidates offered different solutions.
Douglass suggested creating a private local improvement district to raise the funds, leaving the city out of the project.
“No city money needs to be spent and can be spent,” he said.
Russell said the City Council is continuing to seek other funding options, and she would rather see city funds go elsewhere.
Baer suggested removing the dam that creates Mirror Pond and letting the river return to a natural state.
Moseley called out the Bend Park & Recreation District, saying the district should have a stronger role in overseeing the pond, which he called a recreational facility.
At one point in the debate, the candidates had a chance to ask one question of another candidate. Moseley, Douglass and Baer each asked a question directed toward Russell.
Baer offered a softball question about Russell’s proudest achievement, which she said was encouraging public awareness and involvement in city issues.
Douglass asked Russell if she would support a net-zero energy program, which she said she was open to researching.
Moseley asked a pointed question about why Russell opposed funding road improvements on Murphy Road and Empire Avenue. Russell responded by saying the projects are critically important, but there was not enough money available at the time to see them all the way through.
She would rather wait and possibly partner with developers in those areas, she said.
Russell used her one candidate question to ask Moseley why in 2017 he didn’t support extending an enterprise zone, which is an area where a city offers tax incentives to encourage businesses to invest.
Moseley said he didn’t believe the incentives would lead to more jobs, and he didn’t want to give away taxable land at a time when the city is steadily growing.
Toward the end of the debate, an audience member asked about embattled Bend City Councilor Nathan Boddie, who is accused of groping a woman at a bar several years ago, and how the candidates would take action against such behavior.
Moseley and Russell said they had urged Boddie to step down from the council and drop out of his race as a Democratic state House candidate.
They added the council has no legal means to remove Boddie.
Moseley said he was especially upset with the way Boddie questioned the character of his accuser in a statement.
“Ultimately, his personal attack on one of his accusers was just way over the line,” Moseley said, “completely unacceptable on the part of a leader.”
Baer added as mayor he would instill a zero tolerance policy for any sexual harassment.
The Bend Chamber will host a city council candidate debate at 10 Barrel’s Eastside Pub on Oct. 9.
— Reporter: 541-617-7820, firstname.lastname@example.org