Eugene Weekly : News : 2.7.08

Bettman Won’t Run
Eugene councilor endorses George Brown

Eugene City Councilor Bonny Bettman, long a progressive lightning rod in local politics, said she will not run for re-election.

Bonny Bettman
George Brown

Bettman said she will serve out her term through the end of the year and endorsed George Brown, proprietor of the downtown Kiva natural foods grocery, as her replacement. Bettman and Brown plan a 10 am press conference Thursday, Feb. 7, at the Kiva to officially make the announcement.

“Everything I accomplished was against the relentless resistance of the organization, and that is exhausting,” Bettman said of fighting for city government reform for the past eight years. “There have to be fresh troops.”

“I’m really fortunate that George is ready to do that,” Bettman said.

Brown, 60, said, “It will be truly difficult to fill Bonny’s shoes, but I’m going to work hard to do that.”

Brown, who started the Kiva in 1970, became more politically active last year. Brown and others said an urban renewal measure threatened to divert school and government taxes to subsidize downtown mall development against local businesses. The measure failed in the last election with almost two-thirds voting no.

Brown said he supports increased public accountability for city staff, the Beam project downtown, housing and a park across from the library, an in-house city attorney and an independent city auditor.

While working on the urban renewal campaign, Brown said he became “increasingly frustrated” that city officials refused to provide public documents. “It’s kind of a closed system; they only give information to people they like.”

“The city manager and planning and development department have basically been setting policy and not giving people information, and the council majority has been following their lead and rubber stamping it,” Brown said. “I think that really has to change.”

In addition to Bettman, Brown said he has the endorsements of Mayor Kitty Piercy, South Eugene Commissioner Peter Sorenson, former Councilor Paul Nicholson, Sundance proprietor Gavin McComas and progressive activists Lisa Warnes, David Monk and Michael Carrigan.

Bettman said Brown is a good match for her progressive Ward 1 surrounding Friendly Street in south Eugene. “He’s going to be hard to beat.”

Bettman, a former registered nurse and neighborhood leader active in Citizens for Public Accountability, twice beat well-funded Chamber of Commerce candidates in her ward.

While on council she delved deeply into city documents and became a leading voice for putting the environment and livability ahead of developer profits. A 2003 Register-Guard article on big campaign donations by timber and developer interests called her “the liberal politician that the big conservative donors most love to hate.” At one point developers formed a “Gang of 9” targeting Bettman and other progressives with anonymous, acerbic cartoons published by the R-G.

“There will be corks popping,” Bettman said of her departure. “But as many people that are happy to see me go, there’s going to be lots of people that are sad to see me go.”

Bettman also fought for a long list of measures she hoped would save taxpayers money and increase the accountability and democratic control of the city bureaucracy. Among her top accomplishments, Bettman counts her leading roles in the creation of a police auditor and review board, cutting airport taxes, increasing downtown policing, the school funding levy, creating office space for elected officials, library funding and reducing tax breaks and developer subsidies.

Bettman said she has long felt “marginalized” by a “circle the wagons” wall at City Hall to reform. “I’ve gotten to the point where I know too much, and it’s become to hard to live with what I know.”

Bettman said she “hasn’t decided yet” what she’ll do with all her free time after she leaves the near full-time councilor job in January. “There are more productive places for me to contribute my skills and abilities,” she said. “I doubt that I will stray very far from government or political office.”