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Bend's New Mayor Brings Critical Eye To City Water Plans

OPB | Jan. 18, 2013 4:25 p.m. | Bend, Oregon

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This week, Bend city councilors selected Jim Clinton to serve as Bend’s new mayor. Clinton is currently the council’s longest serving member. And in recent years, he’s been an outspoken critic of the $70 million plan to overhaul the city’s surface water system. Now the new mayor wants to give the plan a second look.

Clinton takes the helm.

Clinton takes the helm.

David Nogueras / OPB

Clinton’s selection as mayor came just minutes after he was sworn in for a third council term. Two other councillors had expressed interest in the job. But when it came time to make it official, Councilor Jodie Barram’s admiration for Clinton trumped her desire to be mayor.

“By virtue of who you are, you have made the last few months extremely difficult for me, because I respect you tremendously as a colleague and I care for you as a friend,” Barram told Clinton. “And if being mayor is what you really want, then I want that for you.”

Councilor Mark Capell also withdrew his name, which led to the council to unanimously select Clinton as Bend’s new mayor.

Clinton’s foray into political science came eight years ago when he was first elected to Bend City Council. His training, however is in the natural sciences. He has a doctorate in physics from the University of California in San Diego. In his day job, he’s a self-employed inventor working on projects spanning from the development of medical devices to aerospace materials.

“As a kid growing up in Lakeview, I was always liking to build things,” Clinton said. “So I remember my eighth grade project was to build a refrigerator.”

Clinton’s approach to issues that come before the council - as you might expect from a scientist - comes with a healthy dose of skepticism. Clinton concedes he undoubtedly voted “no” more than any other councilor in recent years. But he says that’s because his approach is data-driven and sometimes the data isn’t always there.

“Science is one type of human activity where really the single goal is to get at the truth,” he said. “And if you look at a lot of other professions like politics and being a lawyer and being a business person getting at the truth is not necessarily part of the equation. “

In the case of the Bend’s planned surface water overhaul, Clinton says the previous council moved forward with the project without adequately examining the alternatives or the potential pushback.

As it turns out, one of those repercussions came in the form of legal challenges brought by the group Central Oregon LandWatch. Those challenges have put the brakes on the project.

The conservation group’s executive director, Paul Dewey, says he’s known Clinton for more than a decade and considers him a friend. He says although he and Clinton don’t always see eye to eye, he believes that of all the councilors, Clinton is the most in line with the will of the people.

“And I think that being more critical, he hasn’t been a rubber stamp. And that’s really want people want in a city councilor, is somebody that will stand up for them,” Dewey said.

Departing Mayor Jeff Eager says he and Clinton were were on opposite ends of many issues, with Clinton usually being in the minority.

“I think one thing that is going to change for Jim, now that he’s mayor, is that he is going to be in a position where he has to help chart a path forward and bring a majority of councilors along with him and make some tough choices,” Eager said. “And it’s a different role than being the contrarian, and one that I think Jim is well suited to do.

This week the new mayor says one of the first tasks for the new council will be to take a hard look the city’s surface water project.

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