Though City Council duties, meetings, committees, and hearings require 45 to 55 hours per week to fulfill, Bend City Councilors are considered volunteers, have no administrative support staff and receive no benefits. The archaic notion of an unpaid mayor and city council is not in step with the times within the paradigm of the exponential growth Bend continues to experience.
Voters approved the City of Bend Charter of 1995 at a special election held in May of that year. The preamble waxes eloquently on the intent for self-determination in municipal affairs. It describes the city council model still in use today, with seven councilors, elected to four-year terms, each receiving $200 per month. The mayor is one of the seven city councilors and is paid the same rate, elected within the council to a two-year term.
Tradition is comfortable, and the City Council, in no way, has ever broached the subject of pay. However, it is abundantly clear that Bend is not the same small town that it was 21 years ago. Whereas the population of Bend in 1995 was 30,301 people, by 2013 it passed 81,000, growing 268 percent during that time.
Last year, the U.S. Census Bureau listed Deschutes County as one of the fastest growing areas in the country. Looking forward, population growth within the state and Deschutes County is expected to continue at the current rate for the next 20 years or more, according to projections from the Oregon Office of Economic Analysis.
Despite growth, there are still dozens of Oregon small towns paying city councilors and mayors very little. Cities in Oregon, comparable in size to Bend, vary drastically. For example, Beaverton, with a population of 93,542 pays its mayor a base of $149,529. In Gresham, population 109,347, the mayor earns $50,000, up from $160 per month last year. A May 2015 ballot measure was proposed in Gresham, championed by members of the Chamber of Commerce following the mayor's successful small business initiative to fill vacant storefronts.
The problems facing Bend's City Council are different from these two cities, but clearly beyond the scope of yesteryear. City councilors are required to make policy decisions that will enormously affect the city. According to Mayor Pro-Tem Sally Russell, there are many urgent issues in Bend that require informed research and evaluation. For example, she notes the strained infrastructure such as roads and sewer, as well as a disappearing middle class, and a critical need for affordable housing as well as access to transit within the urban growth boundary.
Although an online search leads to an inaccurate salary estimate for Bend's mayor and city councilors, the fact is that Mayor Jim Clinton, Russell, and the other councilors receive no more than the councilors of 1995, when Bend was a much smaller town. If Bend is to grow intelligently, we must recognize the value of an elected City Council able to devote its full-time attention to the matters of the city, and compensated accordingly.