Disbelief swept through the Bend City Council chambers Wednesday night after the council voted 4-2 to appoint a white, Republican man to an open council seat over a young woman of color who garnered passionate community support and an older woman with government experience.
Chris Piper, the 51-year-old vice president of business development at the Cleveland, Ohio-based marketing company Proforma, will serve out the remaining two years of a council term that opened when Sally Russell won November’s mayoral election.
Russell, Mayor Pro Tem Bruce Abernethy and Councilors Justin Livingston and Bill Moseley voted for Piper.
Russell said she had not turned her back on diversity, a charge made by some in the audience Wednesday, and noted instead that the council had already made progress by electing three women.
“I’m in this for the long run for our community,” Russell said after the meeting. “I’ve got to look at this job as what we need to be able to accomplish over time with a lot of different constituents, values and needs.”
Piper does not have government experience, though he worked for George H.W. Bush’s presidential campaign while in college. And while he was Russell’s top choice Wednesday night, he wasn’t on her top three list two days earlier.
Russell surprised fellow councilors when she said she would not be willing to vote for Kathy Austin, even though Austin was her second choice. Austin, a member of the city’s Affordable Housing Advisory Committee who previously served as mayor and city councilor in a small town in California, appeared poised to receive support from Russell, Abernethy and councilors Gena Goodman-Campbell and Barb Campbell.
After the vote, Russell said she would prioritize diversity and inclusion when working on setting the City Council’s goals. Campbell laughed at this, and Bend resident and community activist Michael Funke shouted from the audience.
“You turned your back on the people of color in this community,” Funke yelled at Russell.
Funke, Campbell, Abernethy, Goodman-Campbell and many in Bend’s community favored Kerani Mitchell, a woman of color and renter who volunteers in Bend. Romir Chatterjee, a South Asian immigrant and Bend resident who spoke to the City Council on Wednesday night, said appointing Mitchell would send a strong message to people in Bend who don’t trust that institutions are responsive to their concerns.
“This town desperately needs to support diversity, especially for those of us like myself who live in your midst and feel like we are quite alone, especially in these times when minorities, disadvantaged people, lack a voice,” Chatterjee said.
The appointment of Piper means the City Council will maintain the same partisan breakdown it had during the last two years, with four registered Democrats and three registered Republicans.
Moseley said maintaining that balance is important. Longtime residents of Bend have seen frequent pendulum shifts between liberals and conservatives on the council, and those don’t help the community, he said.
“There were some emails that suggested we’re a very liberal community,” Moseley said. “That’s simply not true. We’re a very diverse community.”
The City Council received 36 applications for the open seat, though only 33 of those applicants met the city’s requirement that councilors live within city limits for the year prior to appointment. Six finalists participated in interviews Monday.
During his interview Monday, which was done by video call from Las Vegas, Piper said he plans to start with one-on-one meetings with each councilor. He said his leadership style is based on putting the needs of his team first.
“I’m a person that does a lot of research,” he said. “A lot of times we have a tendency to reinvent the wheel. There are opportunities to repurpose what other communities have done.”
— Reporter: 541-633-2160, firstname.lastname@example.org