((L-R) Marisa Hossick and Ray Miao)
For what might be the first time in recent memory, the May Deschutes Public Library Board election has garnered widespread attention all across Deschutes County. Incumbent Ray Miao, who was first elected to the board in 1998, is campaigning to defend his position against Marissa Hossick. Both are running to represent District 4, which includes parts of Southeast and East Bend.
Contention between the two primarily stems from the passing of Bond Measure 9-139, which, “bonds to renovate, upgrade, construct and equip library facilities,” in the following ways; “Provide a new central library, provide a new Redmond library expected to significantly increase square footage; and repair, modernize and upgrade Sisters, Sunriver, La Pine, Downtown Bend and East Bend libraries.”
According to Ann Malkin, a current member of the library board who is running unopposed for reelection, this plan is the culmination of “eight years of hard work that involved tons of public comments and conversations with our community, as well as working with nationally-known library facility planners.”
Malkin, who supports Hossick in her campaign, is confident that this facility is what the community wants and needs, “this has been a robust effort, and after years of trying, we are finally close to giving this community what they deserve,” she said. “We looked at many other routes, but determined that this one best serves the public, and provides people access to the library services that we most want to provide.”
Those services include flexible community space, children’s discovery and learning programs, community events, a greater depth and diversity of literature, plenty of access to computers and internet-capable devices, an automated book/material processing system and more, all housed within a massive, 100,000-square-foot facility. For reference, Bend’s Downtown community library sits at 38,855 square feet, which would make this new central library the largest we’ve ever seen in Deschutes County, by far.
According to Malkin, “the people voted, it got approved and we assembled a team of contractors, builders, architects, and everyone else we needed to pull off a multi-faceted building project like this one. The designs we’ve gotten back are great, and the public will be very excited about these new facilities.”
Candidate Hossick is in clear support of this facility as the plans stand now. As a mother of two kids who moved back to Bend because she specifically wanted to raise her family here, she is excited to take her kids to explore the new facility, and hopes other families feel the same.
“I love learning about what makes a community tick in a healthy way, what kind of architecture brings people together, and I like to be involved with what is going on with my family,” Hossick said. “We want to do what’s best for the culture of the area because it is my family’s future as well.”
Despite the contention and obvious frustration that the board members have with each other, both candidates Hossick and Miao seem to agree more than people might expect. Both candidates agree that creating small, neighborhood libraries is a costly and ineffective idea. While it has been shared that this was Miao’s proposal, he shared in an interview that he has never supported this idea, and he is in support of community libraries, using the East Bend and Downtown libraries as examples.
Both candidates also agree that library staff have been taking an unfair amount of flak from the public, due to this contentious race and the strong feelings on either side.
In addition, both candidates agree that the will of the voters cannot be overturned. Despite claims that he is attempting to overturn the bond measure, Miao stated that he fully acknowledges the legally-binding nature of the bond, and claims that his plan falls within the language of the bond, partially because the bond, he claims, was written using vague language.
Interestingly enough, both candidates claim to be very concerned about losing the trust of the voters. Hossick argues that her opposition’s position might lose the trust of the majority who voted for the new central library, while Miao argues that his opposition’s position might lose the trust of voters in communities like Redmond, La Pine and South Bend.
So what is Miao’s plan, if it is not to subvert the vote and create small and ineffective neighborhood libraries? Simply put, he argues that the board should “pump the brakes” and do more research to find a plan that everyone can agree on.
“In the same election cycle (as Bond Measure 9-139), four other Oregon libraries came up with financial measures, and all won by about 20 percent or more, the smallest majority being 18 percent and the largest being 27. We won by 4 percent, and that raised a red flag,” said Miao. “A win is a win and we will do this because we are required to. But, when we analyzed the vote later on, we found that Redmond defeated the measure by 8 percent. District 3, which represents South Bend all the way down to La Pine, defeated the measure by 10 percent. My zone only passed it by 0.8 percent.”
While he acknowledges that the majority of Deschutes County voted in favor of the bond and that it cannot be reversed, his main argument lies in taking time to understand why certain communities, especially those outside of Bend, might not support the bond, “we have twenty years to make this right, so we have time,” he said. “We should use that time to understand why these communities are not in favor of the decision.”
Miao argues that we should look to the success of the East Bend library. Opened in 2011, this community library has helped take pressure off of the Downtown library by decreasing foot traffic and providing library services to a historically underserved part of our community. Miao argues that the new Central Library should be paused temporarily and scaled back. He said that the new facility can meet the requirements that are stated in the bond measure while taking up less than half of the proposed space; saving money for other potential future projects, such as community libraries like the East Bend library.
Miao’s argument lies in being patient. He claims that the bond measure is vague in its wording (nowhere does it state how big the Central Library must be) and because it passed by a margin that he considers to be too slim, he said it won’t hurt the community to take some time and understand why communities like Redmond and La Pine are, by and large, not in support of the bond measure.
The benefits of the proposed new Central Library, if it is built at 100,000 square feet, cannot be denied. A facility of this size and scope will undoubtedly help spread library services to the community and help prepare Bend for future growth. However, the question on many voters’ minds seems to be a question of equity in access.
It is perfectly reasonable to say that the bond passed, and therefore the majority of the voters want the new, massive central library. It is also reasonable to point out that voters from small communities outside of Bend are much less supportive of this idea, and that their opinions can be taken into consideration.
After all, how ethical is it to ask those communities like Redmond and La Pine to raise their taxes for a project that the majority of them did not approve of? On the other hand, how ethical is it to raise this question after a majority of Deschutes County voted to approve the plan?
These questions and more are being confronted in this May race between Marisa Hossick and Ray Miao.