Julia Shumway
The Bulletin

Seven of the 36 people who applied for one open seat on the Bend City Council will move on to public interviews next week.

City councilors narrowed their list of applicants during a special meeting Tuesday night. They plan to meet Jan. 16 and appoint one of the applicants to fill the council seat left vacant when Sally Russell won the race for mayor in November. There are two years left on Russell’s council seat.

The seven finalists are Chuck Allen, Kathy Austin, Andrew Davis, James Dorofi, Kerani Mitchell, Chris Piper and Kori Sparks. They’ll each sit for a 20- to 30-minute interview during a special, livestreamed City Council meeting Monday.

“It took a lot of time to go through these applications because they’re really highly qualified individuals from all corners of our community,” Russell said. “The breadth and depth of the people who applied to this position is so impressive. I want to find a way to engage you all in the city because you’ve expressed interest in a really meaningful way.”

In narrowing the list, councilors prepared their own top five lists of candidates and looked at the ones who received the most support. Mitchell and Sparks both made the top five list for four of the six city councilors.

Mitchell, 33, now works as an accounting associate for the national nonprofit foundation Groundswell Fund and serves on the board of the Bend International School. She grew up in Sisters and has lived in Central Oregon for most of her life.

In her application, Mitchell said she was committed to making Bend’s goal to be one of the most welcoming cities in the country a reality. As a woman of color and a renter who declared bankruptcy in 2017 because of medical debt related to the complicated birth of her 10-year-old son when she was working as a barista in downtown Bend, she said she understands the struggle many Bend residents face when it comes to living in the community.

Sparks, 30, is the operations director for environmental watchdog Central Oregon LandWatch. During her five years in Bend, she also worked as an animal care technician for the Humane Society of Central Oregon, where she earned an annual salary of $24,000. She said she’s experienced the same challenges finding housing and a living-wage job that many Bend residents face.

She also was diagnosed last year with a seizure disorder, which meant she had to switch from driving to using Bend’s public transportation system. Sparks said she would prioritize transportation, affordable housing and climate change as a city councilor.

Davis and Dorofi made the top five list for three councilors. Davis, 34, is the student life director at Central Oregon Community College and ran unsuccessfully for the City Council seat won by Gena Goodman-Campbell in November.

He’s a lifelong resident of northeast Bend who said he wanted to focus on closing the gap between wages and housing costs by making more homes available and attracting higher-paying jobs to Bend.

Dorofi, 44, is a volunteer who helped organize the city’s Neighborhood Leadership Alliance, a city committee formed last year that focuses on quality of life. He moved to Bend about 20 years ago and has worked in the auto industry. Now, he and his service dog are frequent users of the city’s buses, and he advocates for a diverse transportation system.

Councilors discussed other candidates before agreeing to send Allen, Austin and Piper on to interviews.

“It’s a combination of science and art,” Mayor Pro Tem Bruce Abernethy said. “The quantitative part is what happens when you crunch the numbers.”

Allen, 70, is a retired corporate executive who lives in southeast Bend. He lacks prior government experience, but he’s owned several businesses and worked in executive roles at companies including Microsoft and Citigroup.

In those jobs, he said he focused on meeting future needs while managing current ones, a skill he said would translate to serving on the City Council of a rapidly growing city like Bend.

Austin, 67, has been a member of the city’s Affordable Housing Advisory Committee and the now-dormant Arts, Beautification and Culture Commission. She also was a city councilor and mayor in Sebastapol, California.

She’s worked as an architect who specializes in affordable housing and wants to concentrate on reducing housing costs. She said she will not run for re-election if appointed.

Piper, 51, is the vice president of business development for the Cleveland, Ohio-based marketing company Proforma.

He does not have government experience, but city councilors said they were impressed by his business experience.

He also is working on rolling out a character-development program at High Desert Middle School and Bend High School.

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