Timm Slater, North Bend city councilman and League of Oregon Cities board member, talks about the annual League of Oregon Cities meeting in Bend this year.

BEND — Over 1,000 people attended the 2019 annual League of Oregon Cities conference, making it the biggest meeting in its history.

“I joined because I saw a real opportunity,” said Timm Slater, LOC past president and North Bend city councilman as he sat at the Riverhouse on the Deschutes Conference Center in Bend, surrounded by a crowd eager to attend workshops Thursday morning. “I believe in the league and what it does for cities. We are becoming an increasing player in the National League of Cities, which is important for the overall support system.”

Coos Bay city councilors walk through the vendors set up at the 2019 annual League of Oregon Cities meeting where councilors from all across t…

The LOC exists to support cities across the state by connecting city leaders and state legislators, advocating for their needs while also providing training to help cities run more efficiently.

Slater joined back in 2013, following the opportunity to bring city representation to the state capitol, but his involvement grew from there. In 2016, he was elected as LOC treasurer but became the vice president when the one at the time stepped down. He went on to become president in 2018, where it became his turn to push for the interest of all Oregon cities.

Since then, Slater was part of the group that hired current LOC Director Mike Cully.

“The organization we’ve assembled around him will benefit all cities,” Slater said. “We’re being respected both statewide and nationally now, which is part of being more effective for our cities.”

Since getting involved with the LOC, Slater has participated in keeping the organization diverse in size, which has helped heal the urban and rural split.

“That split impacts all of us in Oregon, where one doesn’t understand the other,” he said. “There is still a gap, but when the transportation bill went through after representatives went all over Oregon, one of the big suggestions on the list was to solve the congestion in Portland because it impacted transportation of goods to smaller cities as well. Both rural and urban communities said that needed to be addressed.”

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During his time with the LOC, Slater has seen the urban and rural city gap heal as representatives from each area worked together under the umbrella of the organization.

“We opened the eyes of larger cities in seeing the needs of the rest of Oregon in jobs, the need to balance state funding from transportation and economic needs,” he said. “There is more to go, but they know each other much better now. It’s more of a process than a finished product, so it continues.”

The conference was attended by other local government officials, including members of the North Bend and Coos Bay city councils and their city managers.

Vendors set up during the conference to offer products used by officials for recreation facilities and transportation, which Slater said is always a great part of the annual LOC meeting. However, he broke it down by saying 50 percent of the meeting is the training offered through workshops covering everything from how to deal with the media to solving the homeless crisis.

In fact, it was at the LOC meeting where The Hayden Opportunity Fund for Housing Affordability announced on Friday that it will award $150,000 grants to three cities, county governments or stakeholder agencies across Oregon, Washington and Idaho. The grants will go to solving the housing affordability crisis in the local communities.

“Grants in the amount of $100,000, $30,000 and $20,000 will be awarded for the top three most innovative solutions,” read a release from the organization. “Housing affordability in the Pacific Northwest has reached a crisis point. The impacts are felt by hard-working families who’ve done everything right but can’t achieve the American Dream. The governments that serve them must lead the way, developing new solutions that ensure prosperity is attainable for all.”

For Slater, the other 50 percent of the LOC meeting’s purpose is to connect government officials to each other where ideas on solving problems like the housing and homeless crisis can be shared.

“Relationships are formed and information passed along,” he said. “We even have a group going to Washington D.C. separate from the big get-togethers to lobby on infrastructure and transportation because we want to establish Oregon as a player in that conversation.”

Though the LOC is keeping busy and providing opportunities for cities like Coos Bay and North Bend, Slater called for residents to get involved too.

“That is how you make significant difference in your community,” he said. “You learn teamwork, how to work with people who aren’t in your circle of friends but together you work for a common goal. Join your local city council, your local planning commission, support the LOC as it grows. We need strong representatives to come forward and provide more opportunities."

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Reporter Jillian Ward can be reached at 541-269-1222, ext. 235, or by email at jillian.ward@theworldlink.com. Follow her on Twitter: @JE_Wardwriter.