When Sally Russell ran for re-election to her Bend City Council seat in 2016, she faced one challenger. Councilor Bruce Abernethy faced no competition at all.
Two years later, with Russell at the helm as mayor and Abernethy her second-in-command, the council faces a daunting challenge as it seeks to appoint a replacement for the seat left vacant when Russell won the race for mayor in November. Three dozen people are competing to serve the remaining two years of Russell’s council term — a job that pays $533 a month, demands many hours of work each week and requires listening to all 86,765 residents of Bend.
Unlike a regular campaign, which requires candidates to collect signatures from 150 registered voters in order to be eligible to run, the 36 applicants for Russell’s seat only needed to fill out an online application.
Abernethy, who has been elected three times since 2000, has never seen this much enthusiasm for the job.
“This is magnitudes larger than we’ve seen previously,” Abernethy said. “I think it’s really exciting to see how people are wanting to get involved.”
He, Russell and the rest of the council have more than 230 pages of application materials to go through before they meet Tuesday evening to narrow the list of hopefuls down to a handful of applicants who will sit for in-person interviews the following week. Councilors plan to make their appointment Jan. 16.
The field of hopefuls includes several former candidates for local elected office, members of city committees and people getting involved in government for the first time. Applicants live in all parts of Bend and belong to different political parties, and they range in age from 25 to 72.
They are more diverse in other ways than candidates who have run for elected office in Bend: several identified themselves as people of color, several have disabilities and there are nearly as many women as men.
City Councilor Barb Campbell said Friday she wanted to use the appointment process to represent demographics that are missing on the City Council. The council doesn’t have any people of color or people with disabilities, and Campbell and Councilor Justin Livingston are the only two who live east of the Bend Parkway. Livingston, 41, and Councilor Gena Goodman-Campbell, 34, are the youngest members of a City Council dominated by baby boomers.
Campbell, Abernethy and Russell all said the interest in the open seat made them question whether barriers to election in Bend are too high. City Council campaigns now routinely cost tens of thousands of dollars.
“I think this might say something about the campaign process,” Campbell said. “If we take away hurdles, how many more people would want to participate?”
For the first round of cuts, Russell said she’s looking for applicants who have demonstrated the ability to represent the entire community and has worked in leadership roles before.
The newly appointed councilor will take office as the city starts setting its goals for the next two years and in the middle of multi-year planning projects for the city’s transportation system and the annexation and development of about 2,300 acres outside Bend.
Finalists selected Tuesday will move on to public, live-streamed interviews Jan. 14.
— Reporter: 541-633-2160; firstname.lastname@example.org
Editor’s note: This article has been corrected. The original version misstated the pay for the new city councilor. The Bulletin regrets the error.