Thursday, January 13, 2011

Fear Factor: Feeling safe as an elected official

A former Bend mayor reflects on heated rhetoric in the wake of the Tucson shootings.

Posted By on Thu, Jan 13, 2011 at 7:58 PM

In light of the recent incident in Tucson, a friend asked me if I’d ever felt any fear while serving in elected office as a city councilor and mayor in Bend.

My immediate response was no, that during a majority of the years I served were mostly before the current age of divisiveness.

On reflection, I had to modify that statement and say that there was one somewhat scary event and a couple of scary people.

The scary event was the final vote on whether or not to create the Bend Parkway.

Those who have been around this area for some time will recall that the Parkway issue was extremely contentious. Those who are newer to the community will probably wonder what all the fuss was about?

There were two extremely vocal groups on the Parkway matter. On one side, those who felt strongly that the creation of the Parkway would give Bend’s economy a big boost. On the other side, were those who claimed that if the motorway was constructed Bend would become the Los Angeles of the north – crowded with people and laced with freeways.

In the middle were those who felt that the Parkway was needed to move traffic more quickly through town and eliminate arterial street congestion.

Heated debates over the issue ensued. Bend’s city commissioners (this was before our city’s governing group went from a commission to Council) were heavily lobbied by both pro and con groups.

Commission meetings were packed and the rhetoric on both sides tended to be hyperbole. For example, one pro-Parkway group mouthpiece would declare repeatedly that when he spoke that he “spoke for the entire community.”

“No you don’t,” is what many commissioner wanted to say, but they were hesitant as the speaker seemed ready to unleash some form of mayhem at the slightest provocation.

Eventually the issue came down to a final vote and the commission voted unanimously to approve the Parkway’s construction.

With the decision, all hell broke loose. The anti-Parkway people (the majority in the crowd that night) started chanting “fascists,” and worse, followed with wagging of their fingers saying things like: “you’ll pay for this” and “watch out.”

Then a small group of them rushed the council desk. Thankfully Bend PD chief Dave Malkin and an officer got things quickly under control and the commissioners were ushered into a backroom shaken and concerned.

The Parkway was built. Bend didn’t become LA with volcanic peaks in the background and the roadway didn’t prove to be a vast source of economic growth. It did, and does, help move thru-city traffic along.

And while the Parkway controversy came and went, in my 12 years of public service a couple of people gave me cause for concern. Both had an affection for alcohol. One was a periodic binger who would show up at commission and later council meetings, amble on and then be escorted out of the chambers and building.

Meet him the next day on the street and the guy was apologetic, offering: “I just needed to get something off my chest.”

The other imbiber always spoke at meetings with a threatening tone. He apparently hated everything that had to do with any government anywhere.

One time, he appeared at a Parks Board meeting and when called on to speak noted, “I don’t know what the issue is that you’re considering tonight, but whatever it is, I’m against it.”

Funny, right? No it was scary because you never knew what this person might do next.

Serving in an elected capacity is getting scarier and hopeful will not deter those who are well qualified and able from running in the future.

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