Strange Bedfellows on City Fee

Progressive former city councilor Bonny Bettman McCornack walks into a meeting of Glenn Beck fans — it sounds like there’s a punch line coming, but at the meeting of 9.12 Project Lane County April 9, when Bettman McCornack presented her position against the proposed city fee on the May ballot, there was an air of agreement in the Izzy’s Pizza banquet room.

In front of the conservative audience, Bettman McCornack questioned why the ballot measure asks citizens to vote on human services instead of other options, such as using the city’s reserves or whether this is the right time to contribute to a fund for rebuilding City Hall. “That should be the ballot measure!” a voice from the audience called out, repeating Bettman McCornack verbatim.

Lela Trope, a founder of 9.12 Lane, says she attended the meeting knowing that Bettman McCornack is a self-professed progressive, so she was curious to see how their opinions on fiscal matters would cross or diverge. While Trope says that Bettman McCornack’s “hot-button issue” seems to be human services, and Trope’s interest is more tax-focused, Trope says they agree about the unfairness of picking some of the city’s most popular programs for the ballot. “She knows full well that the human services are the carrot and the stick, but the nice thing [about meeting] somebody like that is that they understand that it’s the carrot and the stick,” Trope says. “A lot of people will vote for almost anything just to protect a niche, and she knows better, and I really like that.”

Glenn Stutzman, who organized the meeting, says that he did a little more background research than usual before Bettman McCornack visited the group, but he was encouraged by a positive opinion of her previous talk on the fee from Americans for Prosperity, a conservative group founded by the Koch brothers. He says the presentation confirmed what he suspected. “There is a need to justify their existence by spending money taking care of people, and to do that they have to have an ever-increasing supply of money, but a lot of what they get into is outside their actual responsibility,” he says.

Stutzman says that transparency about the city’s cuts in recent years, touted by the pro-fee faction, is another issue for him. “They say they’ve laid people off, but some of those layoffs were empty positions to begin with,” he says. “One of the facets of these departments within a city is that those departments pad their departments with empty chairs, so that when it comes time to cut back, they can cut back, maybe, but not really.”

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