Bend 2030’s executive director will resign at the end of the month because she disagrees with the nonprofit board’s decision to advocate for specific policy positions.
In a letter Thursday to Bend 2030 board Chairwoman Jillian Taylor and obtained by The Bulletin, Erin Foote Morgan said she is strongly opposed to the nonprofit organization, which focuses on public engagement, taking political advocacy positions. Foote Morgan did not return Bulletin messages.
“Our role — in my view — is to support community members to come together around their shared solutions for shaping the future of Bend and then assist them in their own implementation of those solutions,” she wrote in her resignation letter.
The Bend 2030 board of directors voted unanimously Dec. 8 to reaffirm its intention to advocate for policy positions, Foote Morgan wrote. Taylor did not return a phone call seeking details on the decision, and efforts to reach other board members were unsuccessful.
Foote Morgan has been Bend 2030’s executive director since 2015.
Her resignation occurs as the group is trying to launch its transportation engagement project, Move Bend, to coincide with major transportation plan updates from the city of Bend, Cascades East Transit, the Oregon Department of Transportation, the Bend Metropolitan Planning Organization and the Bend Park & Recreation District.
So far, Move Bend has launched an interactive website detailing different parts of the city’s transportation infrastructure.
Starting next year, the group plans to host community listening sessions and a four-part lecture series.
The Bend Metropolitan Planning Organization policy board, a five-member panel consisting of three Bend city councilors, a Deschutes County commissioner and an Oregon Department of Transportation area manager, was supposed to discuss a $20,000 grant request from Bend 2030 during a midday meeting Thursday but pushed the conversation because it ran out of time.
If the board decided to give Move Bend money, the funds would most likely come from the planning organization’s Surface Transportation Block Grant, a $1 million sum it receives annually from the federal government. Local governments have a lot of flexibility in how they use that money, and the Bend planning organization used its share in previous years to help the city repair bad roads.
Bend City Councilor Bill Moseley, who serves as chairman of the Bend Metropolitan Planning Organization policy board, said he would not support giving planning organization money to Move Bend because of his reservations about using federal money to fund nonprofit organizations.
“Too often, the MPO has been used as a piggy bank for pet causes,” Moseley said.
Deschutes County Commissioner Tony DeBone joked that Move Bend should give the planning organization money, but said he liked the goal of engaging more community members in and around Bend in the various government agencies’ transportation planning.
“There’s probably not extra funds,” he said after the meeting. “The people involved, let’s do it, but what would we be paying for?”
Funding from the planning organization, along with the $40,000 Move Bend received in donations and additional planned fundraising, will help pay for technology-based tools to better engage the community, Bend 2030 Treasurer Louis Capozzi said. He said the group isn’t doing much planning for how to spend money before it has it, but Move Bend is interested in using augmented reality products to demonstrate changes.
“An augmented reality tool might allow citizens to hold their phone up to an intersection in Bend and see what it would look like,” he said.
Capozzi did not return a subsequent voicemail with questions about the Bend 2030’s advocacy in light of Foote Morgan’s resignation, but he said Thursday morning that the group was focused exclusively on public input and education, not advocating for policies.
“Move Bend doesn’t have a point of view,” Capozzi said. “Move Bend doesn’t have an advocacy goal.”
One goal of the city of Bend’s transportation planning during the next year or so is to settle on a list of key streets that need to be replaced and ask voters to support a road bond to pay for those improvements. Move Bend does not share that goal, Capozzi said.
Bend 2030 did advocate for a failed local gas tax the city put on the ballot during a special election in 2016.
Following that election, the organization reworked its funding policies to separate its nonpartisan programming work, such as its affordable housing workgroup, from its advocacy.
At the time, the organization said it would continue to seek money from government bodies but would not use that money to advocate for specific policy positions.
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