When Bend voters changed the city’s charter last year to directly elect the city’s mayor, proponents said it would give voters more of a voice in their representation.
Instead, the mayoral race left an opening on the council and prompted an appointment process that led to accusations of back-room deals.
Now, the Bend City Council is interested in another charter change to prevent that from happening again. Although they have not decided on a solution, which would have to be approved by voters, councilors discussed several ideas — including a requirement that councilors who want to run for mayor resign from their current seat first.
“I think we missed an opportunity to not craft the language a little better or have a little more discussion about having councilors running for the mayor’s seat,” Councilor Justin Livingston said.
Councilors Bill Moseley and Sally Russell had two years left in their council terms when they ran to be the city’s first elected mayor in nearly a century. Russell’s win meant she started a new four-year term as mayor in January, but it left the council 30 days to appoint a replacement to finish the remaining two years of her term. Moseley will finish his term on the City Council, though he initially planned to resign after losing the mayoral election.
The council chose Chris Piper, a relatively unknown marketing executive supported by business interests.
“I think a city council position is too important to be picked by the existing councilors,” Moseley said.
Moseley said he’d prefer to see all vacancies decided by voters.
The city’s charter calls for councilors to appoint a replacement to an open seat within 30 days. Voters would weigh in only if councilors failed to make an appointment.
Other Oregon cities, including Springfield, Gresham, Medford and Hillsboro, have similar procedures as Bend’s. In other cities, whether a vacant seat is filled by appointment or election depends on when it becomes vacant.
In Beaverton and Salem, the city council can appoint a replacement if there’s less than one year remaining in the term. If more than a year remains, the seat has to be filled during a special election.
Eugene requires elections to fill vacancies if the position become vacant more than 100 days prior to the May election.
All three cities allow the city council to appoint an interim member who serves between the time the vacancy occurs and the elected replacement takes office.
Bend Councilor Barb Campbell said she was interested in giving the City Council more flexibility to decide whether to make an appointment or wait for an election.
It was important to appoint someone to finish Russell’s council term because the city will do most of its budgeting for the next two years before the next available election in May, she said.
The Bend-La Pine School board, though, made the right choice in waiting to fill the seat state Rep. Cheri Helt, R-Bend, recently left on the school board until that election, Campbell said.
Campbell and others on the council said they’d favor a charter amendment that would require councilors running for mayor to give up their council seats.
“We’re trying to make it as least chaotic as possible,” Campbell said.
Five states — Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii and Texas — have laws that require elected officials to resign their seats if they want to run for another office and the terms of the office they’re seeking and the one they hold overlap.
If Oregon had such a law, Moseley, Russell and Helt would have had to resign but former Councilor Nathan Boddie, the Democratic nominee for the state House seat Helt won, could have remained serving because his council term expired before the 2019 legislative session began.
Resign-to-run laws typically require candidates to resign when they qualify as a candidate by paying a fee or gathering signatures on a petition.
They can create their own kind of chaos because governing bodies including city councils have to appoint interim councilors to serve between the resignations and the election.
Bend Mayor Pro Tem Bruce Abernethy said he thought Bend could avoid those issues by putting the seats on the ballot but not requiring candidates for mayor to resign when they start campaigning.
“You don’t resign when you announce you are running for mayor,” he said. “You just say that you are giving up your seat. I don’t think there’s a desire to have anyone to resign to run immediately.”
If the city had a provision like that in its charter last year, voters would have seen five elected city council positions on their November ballots: the mayor, two four-year city council seats and two two-year city council seats.
“It’s a higher bar for a city councilor to decide whether they want to take that chance, but it allows more direct selection by voters,” Abernethy said.
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