Bend Mayor Casey Roats.

Bend Mayor Casey Roats.

Courtesy of The City of Bend

Bend has an unusual way of choosing a mayor.

City councilors select their leader — not voters.

But some councilors aren’t happy, like Barbara Campbell who runs Wabi Sabi, a shop full of cool Japanese stuff in downtown.

OPB asked her: How much horse trading and skullduggery went on in the selection of mayor this year?

“It was entirely that,” she said. “We were denied the opportunity to discuss in public who our next mayor would be. And that arrangement was made before the public meeting behind closed doors.”

Nathan Boddie, another Bend councilor, agrees. “Politics as we all know can get dirty,” he said.

“It can be unseemly and it can be conducted in a way that isn’t in the public’s interest. Particularly when it’s out of the sight of the public. And right now, that’s how we choose our mayor. It’s arm twisting and bullying and trademarking and dealing. But it’s not in the interests of the people.”

Current Mayor Casey Roats is a fourth-generation Bend resident. His family owns Roats Water System, a local utility.

OPB asked him: How did he get selected? Was it like the school yard where the cool kids call the shots, or was there some lobbying?

“Well, it couldn’t have been the first scenario, because I’m not particularly cool. Really I didn’t campaign or run to be mayor. I simply offered up that I was willing and able to do it,” he said.

It’s hard to know exactly what happened behind closed doors at City Hall. But that’s kind of the point of this story. It raises the question: Should Bend look into changing the way it’s governed?

Erin Foote Morgan of Bend 2030: “Bend (is) in this position of not having a visionary leader in many times. That the community has decided, I believe in what that person is saying."

Erin Foote Morgan of Bend 2030: “Bend (is) in this position of not having a visionary leader in many times. That the community has decided, I believe in what that person is saying.”

Kristian Foden-Vencil/OPB

Erin Foote is with Bend 2030 a local group that considers how the city ought to grow over time. She says Bend has what’s known as a ‘weak mayor’ system. 

“That puts Bend in this position of not having a visionary leader in many times. That the community has decided, I believe in what that person is saying. I want that future for my city,” she said.

And electing the mayor isn’t the only change Bend is considering.

Currently, councilors are voted in city-wide and some think a system of wards might serve Bend’s Eastside better. Only one of the seven Bend councilors comes from the Eastside and workers there only enjoy half the income of their Westside peers.

Still, Roats says he hasn’t decided whether to take up the issue of city governance at all. “I have mixed feelings about getting away from the council selecting the mayor,” he said. 

“And the reason why is because, in some ways I like the idea of a mayor coming out of the majority, even if I disagree with them. Because at least the majority would row in the same direction as the mayor.”

Roats say the city has a lot of other pressing issues to deal with before governance — like the urban growth boundary and potholes.

Mike McCauley, executive director of the League of Oregon Cities, said Bend is one of 19 cities in Oregon where the mayor is appointed rather than elected. And it’s by far the largest.

He said there are plus and minuses to the different systems, but what really matters is the mayor’s character, “If they have that passion and commitment to the city they’ll be out front, regardless of how they got there.”

Bend councilors only get about $200 a month for their work, with some putting in 20 hours a week.

But the whole subject of governance is still in its infancy — and any change would require a vote of the people.