Members of the Bend City Council periodically kick around the idea that it’s time to change the way the city’s leadership is organized, at least since 2015, though now it appears they may be getting serious.
They’ve approved a council goal of reviewing the city’s governing charter and sending proposed changes to that charter to voters in May 2018. They have appointed a citizen committee to make recommendations to the council in December.
That committee will recommend whether or not the city should switch to a system in which voters directly elect a mayor and choose council members by wards. Changing the way councilors are paid may also be included.
That last may be fairly quickly resolved: The city’s $200 monthly honorarium to councilors hardly reflects the time and effort required for even a volunteer city council in a city the size of Bend.
As for changes to the ways city residents choose city councilors and their mayor (who, for now, is chosen by councilors from among themselves) those are knottier questions. But as the committee and, later, the council consider the options, they must start with some basic questions.
They must decide what problems changes in the current system would solve.
There is, for example, a perception that the council as now configured somehow locks out residents on the east side of Bend. Yet two of the seven do live there, as have many of their predecessors. Meanwhile, having councilors elected at large, as they now are, can help assure the council itself does not become a collection of men and women whose concerns lie only with their immediate neighbors.
Nor is it a given that having citizens elect a mayor directly would improve the way Bend is run. The strong manager system under which the city has operated for years gives councilors the right to fire a manager at will, and they’ve done so in the past. That would not change, although a mayor with problems could be fired only through the lengthy and often wrenching recall process or by failing to re-elect him or her in the next elections.
So far, those supporting change have shown Bend residents little hard evidence that change is actually needed. Unless they do, the council would be wise to leave well enough alone.