Tatom, DeBone vie for commission seat
Last updated 10/12/2022 at Noon
In the race for Deschutes County Commissioner Position 1, three-term incumbent Tony DeBone is opposed by Oliver Tatom, making his first run. Tatom’s previous elected experience is as a board member of Central Oregon Community College (COCC) and Deschutes Rural Fire Protection District. He is a paramedic and registered nurse who, until two weeks ago, was employed by St. Charles Health System. He resigned to pursue his quest for the Board of Commissioners.
He and his wife, Amy, live in Bend with their two children — Sylvia (10) and Dean (8). DeBone and his wife, Kathy, share a small farm between La Pine and Bend with two dogs, a cat, a horse, three pigs, and some chickens. A son, Michael, works for an area contractor.
The Nugget met with both candidates so that each could share their experiences on the campaign trail and talk about their priorities. DeBone is a self-described techie who embraces technology as a key tool in how the County will meet the demands of a growing population requiring more services.
Tatom agrees that managing growth is a key component of the commissioner’s job and why, among other reasons, he got in the race. He was largely motivated by a number of decisions of the Commission with which he vigorously disagrees.
One of them was the recent decision by the commissioners in a 2-1 vote to accept the recommendation of a County-appointed hearings officer that rezoned 710 acres of farmland near Terrebonne into 71 10-acre ranches. Tatom found that vote contradictory to prudent land use. DeBone was one of the two commissioners voting to accept the rezoning.
Both candidates talked about housing in stark terms, primarily the lack of affordable units. Each articulated the complexity of Oregon land use laws that, from their origin over 50 years ago until this day, are the source of ongoing debate and interpretation and a point of conflict between developers and preservationists.
DeBone is a walking encyclopedia of statistics: “79 percent of Oregon land is owned by federal, state, or local government, leaving 21 percent for infrastructure, commerce, and housing. Deschutes County’s population has grown rapidly — 29 percent — double the rate of the Portland metro area.”
“Bend is in its teenage years,” he said, a reference to the growth spurt and occasional chaotic nature of development in the county.
Tatom said: “The region has changed a lot since I was a kid, and much of that change has been for the good. We have a more diversified economy with plentiful opportunities for meaningful work.”
In a campaign statement he elaborated: “Not all change is progress, however. The physical and social infrastructure has not kept up with the population, and it feels like our communities are now plagued by the very problems many of us left bigger cities to escape: A housing crisis and a childcare desert. Air choked with smoke, and reservoirs empty of water. Anger and division. This is not the environment we chose for our kids.”
Tatom was also offended by DeBone’s and fellow commissioner Patti Adair’s response to COVID mandates and their decisions with respect to abortion coverage for County employees, which let stand the current policy, not adopting changes more aligned with the provisions of Oregon’s Reproductive Health Equity Act.
Each rated their chances of winning as good.
“I’m in the right place for the right job,” DeBone, a Republican, said.
“I think voters are ready for a change,” Tatom, a Democrat, countered.
DeBone acknowledges the larger Democrat voter registration in the county, but believes he’s a known entity in a national and statewide mood that he says favors Republicans in this midterm cycle, citing the president’s low polling numbers and Christine Drazan’s leading in two recent polls for governor.
Tatom sees the voter registration advantage benefiting him, and believes he will be part of a wave that turns the Commission to an all-Democrat composition. Both candidates have been surprised in their door-to-door canvassing that so many would-be voters know little or nothing about what a county commissioner does.
DeBone joked that a lot of the job of commissioner is like working in the “complaint department.”
In terms of Sisters Country, Tatom sees housing as a stressor as it is countywide.
“I want to see Sisters maintain its unique identity and a one-shoe-fits-all approach is not what I see for Sisters,” he said.
He stressed that the County needs to be in partnership with local government.
DeBone said: “The issues facing Sisters are the same — water, housing, traffic. But what’s good for Bend isn’t necessarily good for Sisters or La Pine. People in Sisters want open spaces and not the kind of tight density state planners imagine.” He added: “People are going to keep coming here and the Commission is going to spend most of its time dealing with land issues.”
For his part Tatom says: “We can produce abundant housing and protect our public lands.” He talked about geographic equity and chipping away at the problems.
DeBone talked at length about how technology is changing everything.
“Broadband and Amazon home delivery has made it such that our economy is forever changed and that affordable housing with good jobs in a wired, remote work world is where my priorities and skillsets will necessarily be,” he said.