Bend residents may soon have the option to change how their city is governed.
A volunteer committee looking at changing Bend’s charter updated the City Council on its progress Wednesday. The committee indicated it’s leaning toward recommending Bend directly elect it’s mayor, and to elect city councilors by districts instead of citywide.
Bend is the largest Oregon city without an elected mayor. Right now, the seven city councilors select the mayor from among their own ranks.
Kathleen Meehan Coop, who serves on the committee examining electoral changes, said a mayor chosen by voters could give Bend more visibility.
“We’re looking for an opportunity to provide the city with a political head,” said Meehan Coop. “We need someone to kind of help drive the strategic vision of Bend. For companies coming in here, for example, they know who to talk to, they know who is the political leader.”
The committee is also considering whether Bend council members should be elected through a ward system, instead of at large. Bend could be split into four geographic districts, for example, with one councilor for each plus another two councilors elected at large.
Committee co-chair Brent Landels said districts could help city leaders interact more with people from different parts of the city. And that could lead to more participation in city government at all kinds of levels.
“When they’re sitting at a coffee shop talking to somebody who seems interested in local politics, they can encourage that person: ‘Hey, we have this committee coming up, would you be interested in applying for that committee?’” Landels said.
Volunteers interviewed six other Oregon cities about their governance system. In general, communities with a direct-elect mayor and geographic ward systems were positive about their mode of governance.
The committee will submit a set of recommendations to the City Council in December, and councilors could vote on whether to put the issue on the ballot soon after.
If councilors approve charter changes, the issue could come before Bend voters in May 2018.