Gender breakdown of city committees

- City of Bend Accessibility Advisory committee: 5/11

- Affordable Housing Advisory Committee: 3/9

- Bend Economic Development Advisory Board: 5/13

- Citywide Transportation Advisory Committee: 9/25

- Climate Action Steering Committee: 6/13

- Landmarks Commission: 3/7

- Neighborhood Leadership Alliance: 8/13

- Planning Commission: 3/7

When the new members of the Bend City Council take office Jan. 2, the seven-member body will have three women — the closest it’s come to gender parity.

It’s still possible a fourth woman will join the 2019-20 City Council: Current councilor Sally Russell won the mayoral race, councilors will appoint someone to finish the remaining two years of her term.

“I think it’s really exciting for the city of Bend and for council to see if it makes a difference in how the council operates and how decisions are being made,” said Gena Goodman-Campbell, who was elected Tuesday.

Even as they celebrate advances in gender parity on the City Council, Bend’s leaders realize the city still has a way to go before the people making decisions for Bend look like the community they represent. Women are the minority on all but one city committee, the faces around the table at committee and council meetings are overwhelmingly white and the wealthier west side of Bend is better represented than the east.

Representation matters, said City Councilor Barb Campbell, who won her re-election bid, and is one of only two councilors who lives east of the Bend Parkway.

“When you’re looking for a representative, it is essential that the governing bodies actually, literally look like the people they serve,” she said. “You have men; you have women; you have older people; you have younger people; you have people of different races.”

(Another) Year of the Woman

The election of Russell, Campbell and Goodman-Campbell fits with gains women made at the state and federal level. The number of women in the 435-member U.S. House of Representatives is set to increase from 84 to 98 or more, while the number of female representatives in the 60-member Oregon House will increase from 22 to 28.

In Deschutes County, Bend-La Pine School Board member Cheri Helt became one of only two female legislators from east of the Cascades when Bend voters chose her to replace Rep. Knute Buehler. By winning her race to replace outgoing Deschutes County Commissioner Tammy Baney, county Republican Party Chairwoman Patti Adair maintained the commission’s one-woman, two-men balance.

Two other local governing bodies — the school board and the Bend Park & Recreation District board — won’t have elections until spring. Women hold four of the seven seats on the school board and two of the five on the parks board.

Having more women in office can change the way government works, Russell said.

“I think it’s healthy for a community to have three women on the council,” she said. “As women who really do often have to work in the greater social fabric of family and community and society, there are skill sets we have to hone over time.”

Where it started

The first woman elected to a City Council in Bend was Florence Marshall, who won in 1964. It took another decade for another woman, Ruth Burleigh, to join the council.

Burleigh, 92, was appointed to an open seat in July 1974. She won re-election, spent a dozen years on the council and was selected by her colleagues to serve as mayor twice, in 1978 and 1981.

Burleigh said she didn’t think much about being a woman on the council, during her first few years as the sole woman or when future mayor Kathie Eckman joined her in 1981.

“I don’t know what I think about how much difference it made to have women,” she said. “I think it’s important that people who come on are able to listen to each other.”

The current female councilors, though, have seen how having women on the council made a difference.

When Campbell proposed the city host a screening of “Miss Representation,” a 2011 documentary about how mainstream media fails to provide positive role models for girls, Russell agreed to help make it happen when other councilors dismissed the idea. When City Councilor Nathan Boddie was accused of groping a young woman in a bar and responded by attacking the woman’s credibility, Russell and Campbell pushed hard to censure Boddie.

“I think there are differences in thinking styles, and because I do think that’s true, that must logically lead to differences in leadership style,” Campbell said. “That part about walking in someone else’s shoes is really hard to do.”

More steps to take

Women aren’t represented at an equal level on city committees. With the exception of the Neighborhood Leadership Alliance, where women hold eight of 13 seats, women make up less than half of all other city committees.

Campbell sought to address that, and other diversity issues, by passing a resolution last year saying the city sought diversity of representation and encouraged women and people of all racial, ethnic and geographic backgrounds to apply to city committees.

Friday morning, Campbell advocated for a committee focused on how to annex and develop an elbow-shaped area southeast of Bend larger, so another woman could serve on the otherwise overwhelmingly male committee, she said.

Russell said city committees are a place to start increasing diversity. As mayor, she’ll be responsible for appointing new committee members.

“I’m always looking for a variety of viewpoints and voices and backgrounds and different sets of community values throughout our community,” she said.

Many in Bend can’t afford to serve on the City Council, even after a citywide May vote cleared the way for city councilors to earn more than $200 a month, Russell said.

“I still think there’s something of a financial barrier to serving on council,” she said. Inclusivity

In March, the Bend City Council unanimously passed a resolution declaring its intent to be one of the most inclusive cities in the United States. As part of that resolution, it supported the Inclusive Innovation Initiative — a project launched by Rane Stempson, who worked on building diversity in tech for Microsoft.

Stempson creates diversity trainings for area businesses and volunteered to run a diversity committee for the city in the hope that it can eventually become a full-time city committee. She said Bend is more diverse than many believe, and its populations of racial minorities continues to grow.

“The hard thing is when you’re a diverse person and you’re one of the few, everything falls on you,” Stempson said. “People expect you to be the voice of the community, and you get volunteer fatigue.”

Brad Porterfield, executive director of the Latino Community Association, said the group works on making sure Latinos are represented in government. He said he’s looking for someone interested in filling Russell’s council seat.

“Unfortunately, it’s a very small pool of folks who are both Latino or Latina and would be comfortable stepping into that role,” he said.

The open council seat provides a way to appoint someone who has a different perspective, Goodman-Campbell said.

“That’s a specific opportunity to see if we can get people to apply who wouldn’t normally be able to run for council,” she said. “Running a campaign is not something that’s accessible to everybody.”

And as for whether another woman will fill that seat?

“Maybe we can have four,” Goodman-Campbell said.

— Reporter: 541-633-2160; jshumway@bendbulletin.com

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