Eugene Weekly : News : 2.19.08

Bettman tells of threats, warns of regionalization
by Alan Pittman

Former Eugene City Councilor Bonny Bettman said she opened a letter in her mailbox that left her in a “rising panic.”

It was the first of nine anonymous violent threats in 2003 focused on her daughter. She called the girl’s school principal and the police. The police provided protective surveillance, and her daughter had to carry an alarm wherever she went.

Bettman told the story to the City Club Feb. 13, where she also warned of a “Sprugene” merger and talked about city reform.

Bettman said the threats were “professional,” without identifying DNA or fingerprints that the FBI could find.

She said she is “extremely grateful” for the police protection and to the media for agreeing to not scare her daughter, now away in college, by publicizing the threats at the time. 

Bettman said the threats came as she was thinking of running for a second term and were “politically motivated.”

When she was first running for City Council, she said, then mayor Jim Torrey publicly warned of a “train wreck” if she and other progressives were elected.  After the election, Bettman said activists followed Torrey around town, tormenting him with toy train whistles. 

Torrey spent more than $540,000 last year in his failed bid for the Eugene mayor’s job, exceeding mayoral campaign spending in much larger Portland. Bettman asked, “What could possibly be at stake?” 

“The endgame is a 1,000 acre urban growth boundary expansion” by Springfield sprawling south along I-5, Bettman said. A recent bill in the Legislature to split Eugene’s urban growth boundary from Springfield’s was an effort to remove Eugene from opposing the urban sprawl, Bettman said.

But while Springfield and developers want to divorce Eugene from control over regional sprawl, they want Eugene to foot the bill to subsidize it, according to Bettman. “Springfield got the divorce from Eugene, but they want to keep the joint credit card and commingled assets.”

With transportation and sewer services regionalized, Eugene residents will end up paying higher rates or taxes or have to drive on worse roads to subsidize projects to accommodate sprawl in Springfield, according to Bettman. 

Already efforts are under way to have Eugene subsidize regional public safety and ambulance services for Springfield, Bettman said. “Eugene has the deep pockets,” she said, warning of a “Sprugene” effort at regionalized costs. “It’s going to cost us a lot of money.”

Bettman said regional government is also a political effort to dilute the voting power of the high concentration of progressives in south Eugene. “Our community has different values” than Springfield, she said.

Bettman called for police and democratic reform. She criticized Lane County District Attorney Alex Gardner for supporting the former police chief’s “illegally withholding” a complaint from the police auditor. 

Bettman said the auditor would have kept any sensitive information confidential regarding the complaint. “There is absolutely no justifiable reason to withhold any complaint.”

Rather than moving the police to their own separate building fiefdom, the police should stay in City Hall, Bettman said. “The police should be located with the seat of civic government.” 

The two-term councilor said she served with five different city managers and found city government very resistant to change. The one manager who tried to make changes, Vicki Elmer, “was basically run out of town and tarred and feathered on a rail,” Bettman said. 

Eugene’s city manager system gives too much power to an unelected official, according to Bettman. “It’s not a question of whether the manager has too much power, because the manager has all the power,” Bettman said. 

“The city manager administration runs the game, and they own all the cards, and they’re loading the deck,” she said. “And if you still manage to win, they’ll mug you in the alley.”

Bettman said she’s afraid that a wholesale city charter rewrite to reform the system would open the door to abuse. A misleading “ethics reform” charter amendment in 2002 actually weakened conflict-of-interest provisions barring city contractors from serving on the council, she said. “Let’s fix the system we have now.”

Bettman said an important reform would be to pay city councilors and the mayor for working full time so that a wider variety of people could afford to serve taxpayers with more research and deliberation. “That would go a long way to balance the power,” she said.

Another important reform would be a “fully staffed” in-house attorney office rather than contracting legal services to an outside firm with potential conflicts of interest. “The attorneys mold public policy,” she said.

 “I’m not really a politician,” Bettman said. “I just don’t have the stomach for it.” She said the fact that elected officials have “so little ability” to influence government in Eugene left her feeling like the council was “a total waste of my time.” 

“I really just love not being a city councilor,” she said. But she left the door open to running for another office. “If the opportunity arises, I will consider it.”