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Capell Breaks the Taboo 

People who want to be mayor of Bend aren't supposed let anybody know

People who want to be mayor of Bend aren't supposed let anybody know (publicly, at least) that they're after the job. Traditionally, they're supposed to sit with their hands demurely folded in their laps like wallflowers at a 6th-grade dance and wait to be chosen by their fellow city councilors.

Councilor Mark Capell boldly broke with tradition earlier this month by coming right out and saying he wants to be mayor. He thinks aspirants for the job should explain to the council and the public why they want it and why they think they're best qualified for it.

We agree with him. Although the mayor's position is mostly ceremonial – consisting primarily of chairing council meetings, cutting ribbons and shaking hands with visiting dignitaries – it would be healthier to have an open selection process rather than the backroom maneuvering that goes on now. And having mayoral candidates present their case publicly would give useful insights into their priorities for themselves and the city.

Capell noted that the idea of electing the mayor directly rather than being chosen by the councilors has been floated, but he thinks that should wait until the full city charter is revised. Short of that, we hope Capell's maneuver will open up a much broader examination of whether Bend's present council structure is adequate to the needs of a modern city of 80,000-plus. There are plenty of indications that it isn't.

The council nominally runs the city, but in fact it often does little more than approve the recommendations of the city manager and city staff. That's not surprising; nobody could expect part-time, virtually unpaid councilors to become experts in the myriad and often highly technical issues the city confronts.

That way of doing things might have worked when Bend had 20,000 people and the biggest problem was getting the litter picked up from the streets, but now the city is four times that size and it's embarking on ambitious infrastructure projects that cost tens or hundreds of millions of dollars. (Juniper Ridge, the Surface Water Improvement Project and the forthcoming $180 million sewer upgrade come to mind.) The recent history of costly fiascoes, near-fiascoes and potential fiascoes indicate that the council needs to keep a firmer hand on the tiller.

How to accomplish this? We don't have any neat answers ready. Reviving the council's system of committees, which gives small groups of councilors the opportunity to become experts in particular areas of policy, is an idea worth looking at. Maybe the council should consider hiring one or two aides to act as liaisons with city staff, giving a preliminary review to projects before passing them on for the council's consideration.

The main thing at this point is to get a discussion started about the organization of the council and its role in relationship to the city's professional staff, and with three new faces on the council this is the right time to do it. For having the guts to broach the subject and (we hope) get that discussion going, Councilor Capell gets the GLASS SLIPPER.

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