If you are a current city councilor or work for the city of Bend, election night probably gave you a sinking, queasy feeling you're still trying to shake.
That's because the four recently elected members of the Bend City Council believe they've been given a mandate to change the way the city does business. They believe they are supposed to make changes like rolling back a $68.2 million surface water improvement project, like pushing city staff to provide more and better solutions to problems, like kicking out the conservative old guard represented by the current council and invigorating City Hall with their involvement in the development and execution of plans.
All of this means that city council is really and truly not going to be boring anymore! Just think of the power struggles about to ensue!
The current council has been stymied since the last election two years ago when Mark Capell, Scott Ramsay and Jodie Barram were elected. This current council, which has also included Jeff Eager, Tom Greene, Jim Clinton and Kathie Eckman, is that they just couldn't get into a groove and the result was relatively weak council.
A conservative majority was created by Eager, Ramsay, Greene and Eckman (who resigned last week after losing a bid for reelection to Sally Russell), but that majority group lacked a vision for Bend and a plan for getting there. Because they didn't stand a chance, Capell, Barram and Clinton settled for getting their thoughts on the table, but were powerless to push an agenda.
The result has been a reactive instead of goal-oriented council. It's a characterization most councilors and city staff agree on.
Unsurprisingly, a weak council has meant a heavier reliance on city staff to lead. Though councilors have signed off on all the the big recent projects, like the Bridge Creek water project, it's the staff who have led the discussions. And that's where we expect this new council to be different.
If we can believe what they said in their campaigns, these new folks are ready to take the reins with some gusto. They are going to ask how in the hell did we get so far behind the eight ball on sewers. They are going to ask how the public involvement process on the water project got so fouled up. They are going to be challengers.
Let's break it down.
Pos. 1: Victor Chudowsky—This man's razor sharp thinking process means he synthesizes information fast. In other words, he can spot a bullshit proposal without ever looking up from his spreadsheet. He's told us one of his top priorities will be motivating staff to be creative and offer multiple solutions to problems. Placating fellow councilors and staff is unlikely to be a priority.
Pos. 2: Doug Knight— A longtime Bendite with major name recognition, Knight is self-assured and believes strongly in his ideas. This is good for a council that's lacked vision. Expect to see a focus on land-use—he's the current chair of the Bend Planning Commission. His strong opposition to the water project will make life interesting for city staff.
Pos. 3: Sally Russell—Though other councilors won their seats by greater percentages, Russell's victory was the coup in this election. She beat Eckman, who, for many, defined the old guard political scene in Bend. But Russell will have to work hard if she is to be a leader on the council. She will have a chance to set the tone, if she can, before Knight and Chudowsky take office as Eckman asked her to take over Position 3 as soon as possible.
Pos. 4: Jim Clinton—This man is our current litmus test on the council. We don't always agree with Clinton, but if he's got a problem with something there's usually a good reason. Despite his rational approach, he is viewed as "way out in left field" by current council members. He's said in recent months that it's time for him to lead on the council; and with some firepower in skeptics Knight and Chudowsky, Clinton could transform himself into the man behind the curtain.
The broad stroke here is that the council will now have one strong conservative (Ramsay) and one strong liberal (Clinton). The other five councilors will form a moderate middle group arrayed from moderate conservative Chudowsky to centrists Knight and Capell, and moderate liberals Russell and Barram. Where the council has been weighted to the conservative side, it will now lean strongly left. And that means a chance for the liberal to set an agenda.
Even though there will be a moderate middle, there's sure to be some fireworks. Knight is one of the strongest personalities in town and he's already ruffled Capell's feathers with his criticism of the water project, which Capell is firmly behind. While Chudowsky is cool as can be and unlikely to get flapped, we're sure his call-it-like-he-sees-it attitude will produce get some hackles up.
This is all a little inside baseball, but here's the bottom line: if we told you council wasn't boring before, now it's really going to get spectator-worthy.
With a quarter billion dollars in water and sewer projects along on the line, it's time to start paying attention.