Bend residents will vote on changes to the city’s charter in the May primary election. They are contained in two separate measures. Measure 9-118 would change the way the city’s mayor is chosen; Measure 9-119 would remove councilors’ pay from the charter.
Neither deserves approval. It’s a mistake to believe either is an improvement.
Bend’s mayor now is appointed by the council from among its members. The mayor serves a two-year term.
If the measure is approved, Bend’s mayor will be chosen by voters and serve a four-year term.
What is so terrible about Bend’s current system of choosing the mayor? Nothing.
What can a change to a directly elected mayor guarantee that will be an improvement? Nothing. Don’t vote for it.
Proponents say the change would enable the mayor to speak for the entire city. Really? Bend is that much in agreement? Don’t think so.
Proponents also say the mayor would have more time to cultivate relationships and implement an agenda. It could just as easily mean Bend would be stuck with a bad mayor for four years, rather than two. And the mayor in Bend can’t accomplish anything without three other votes from the council anyway. The mayor gets one vote out of seven.
Remember also that Bend’s mayor has limited authority. That would not change with this vote. The mayor doesn’t have the authority to order around city staff. The city manager runs the day-to-day operations of the city. Bend’s mayor and councilors are there to set broad policy, not to meddle in the how the city is run.
The goal of any charter change should be to improve governance of the city. A directly elected mayor can’t promise that.
The second charter change could actually be an improvement, but not how the council plans to do it.
Mayor and councilor pay is currently embedded in the city charter. It’s set at $200 per month plus expenses. It’s been that way since 1995.
Because the pay is set in the charter, changing the compensation requires a vote of Bend residents. Voters are deservedly sensitive about what their elected officials earn. But requiring a citywide election to change mayor and councilor salaries is overkill. Approval of the ballot measure would remove mayor and councilor pay from the charter.
The council would, instead, set pay by ordinance. Councilors could not vote themselves an immediate pay raise. Under state law, there must be an intervening election before a pay increase takes effect.
Allowing the council to set pay by ordinance makes sense. And we do think councilors deserve more than $200 a month. But the council’s plan to boost pay is flawed, and there’s no reason to approve a charter change that would allow such a result. It’s better to stick with the flawed status quo.
The council’s plan is for councilors to receive $533 a month. The mayor would receive $1,066.
Why does the mayor get double pay? It’s not twice the job. The mayor doesn’t have twice the authority, power or responsibility. It makes no sense.
The council also plans to adjust future pay by changes in the average median income of city residents. The city calls that “innovative” because it links performance to the economy.
But in jobs that have those sorts of links, increases and decreases are almost universally tied to the rate of inflation to connect it to the cost of living. Tying it to incomes will make it a reflection of who can afford to live in Bend. It would even create an, admittedly, small perverse incentive for councilors to care less about affordable housing because low-income people could drive down their pay.
The charter changes proposed for the May ballot were born of an admirable effort to brainstorm ways to improve governance of the city. But the changes on the ballot won’t do it. Vote ‘no’ on both Bend charter changes.