The Bend City Council chose Chris Piper to fill the vacant, seventh seat on the council Wednesday evening, on a 4-2 vote. But getting there proved a bit icy down the home stretch, much like the freezing rain falling outside, making roads slick around the city.
Councilors interviewed six finalist applicants Monday evening, with Piper, a 14-year resident and vice president of business development at Cleveland-based marketing company Proforma, going first, appearing by video call, as he was out of town.
But that night, councilors split six ways when asked to rank their top three choices – make that five ways. One of them, Councilor Bill Moseley, also took part by phone, at first urging colleagues to let the decision go to voters in an upcoming election, later refusing to list his top three choices, preferring to “sleep on it,” something several colleagues soon said made sense.
After two days of such personal consideration and comments from the public, the six met in what was their first regular meeting of the year. But they again weren’t near consensus to start, as each was asked by Mayor Pro Tem Bruce Abernethy to list their top two choices.
Councilor Justin Livingston preferred Andrew Davis, who lost to new Councilor Gena Goodman-Campbell in last fall’s election, but also listed Piper as well. Livingston and Moseley apparently ruffled at least one councilor’s feathers by making their choices in part based on seeking an ideological balance on the council between left and right.
“I believe (Chris) would be a moderate on the council,” Livingston said, calling it “important for me keeping the council ideologically balanced.”
Goodman-Campbell said she’d heard from many people in recent days supporting Kerani Mitchell, an accounting associate at a nonprofit, who stood out in the application and interviews for not just her background but honest references to a “reluctant” bankruptcy filing due to mounting medical bills for her son.
The new councilor said Mitchell stood out not as a politician but a “true public servant,” “a woman of color” and “someone I’d love to work with on this council.”
Colleague Barb Campbell also supported Mitchell and Katherine Austin, an architect and member of the city’s Affordable Housing Advisory Committee, along with a great deal of government experience on tough issues in the past.
Mayor Sally Russell said she favored Austin and Piper, Moseley supported Piper and Davis, while Abernethy supported Davis and Piper in the straw poll.
Campbell said she believed Austin’s government experience stood out, as “she’s been inside of a fishbowl, in a smaller city.” But she also said Mitchell has a perspective “absent from the council” and said it “would be such an honor to serve” with either of the women.
Moseley backed Piper, saying he believed Piper showed the ability to “think strategically” about the growth and transportation challenges facing the community, a perspective “not always that well-represented’ on the current council.
Moseley, who finished second to Russell in the race for mayor last fall, said the previous council had a 4-3 split, with former Mayor Casey Roats often siding on the losing side with him and Livingston — and yet, he said, “we still got a lot of things done,” from starting the Empire Boulevard and Murphy Road extension projects to the plastic bag ban.
“We’re facing some serious transportation issues, we’re going to have to go to voters,” he said, and many would want to see “a reasonable, sensible council in the middle. I think Chris will be best to help us get there.”
Abernethy said he believed Austin showed herself to be “clearly someone who can hit the ground running as a councilor.” But he also said he’s “a big fan” of Mitchell, whose past experience shows she’s “a person of very high integrity.”
Abernethy said she could represent renters, people of color and “could educate the council” at times.
Abernethy said the intent of the straw poll was to “move and stretch” other councilors, to see who might be willing to vote for anyone beyond the two choices they named. In his own case, he said he’d also consider Davis and Piper, his third and fourth choices.
“No one said this is easy,” Russell said, noting that she’d lost her voice talking to so many people about the selection they were making. But she also noted the “special moment” of having three women elected city councilors at the same time, for the first time in Bend history.
“However this ends up tonight, we need to walk out of this room respecting each one of us for the decision-making process,” the mayor said, adding that she has “served as a moderate” and stressing that councilors serve in a nonpartissan position.
“After a lot of agonizing, my top choice is Chris Piper,” she said.
Moseley bristled a bit at “the assumption only certain people can represent certain people. I don’t find that to be true. My family always rented. My father worked for the railroad. We were poor. I feel incredibly blessed to be in the position I am now.”
And he shared more family trauma: “I have a brother who suffered mental illness, my brother-in-law killed himself dealing with schizophrenia.” So he urged his colleagues not to make judgments “just by the skin” of anyone.
That prompted Campbell ask Moseley if he thought he’d had the same experiences in life as someone with a “darker skin tone.” Moseley laughed a bit and said he also didn’t have the same experiences as females, but stuck to his views on the subject.
Goodman-Campbell remarked on the “partisan balance” issue brought up by Livingston and Moseley.
“These are nonpartisan roles, and I have really worked hard to approach this from a nonpartisan perspective,” she said. “It’s frustrating to hear from you, Justin and Bill, thinking of it as a partisan frame, in balance, when you don’t see these roles in that way, when some of us are really trying to get beyond that.”
Russell urged more careful “languaging,” and for councilors not to “call each other out.”
After another straw poll, it appeared the field was being narrowed, but Goodman-Campbell said she was “confused” and was not trying to be disrespectful.
Russell said some comments by councilors were “done maybe in a way that doesn’t bring the community together, build bridges.” But Goodman-Campbell said she was “still frustrated.”
Abernethy, the mayor pro tem who had led the process, soon said it appeared “the only two candidates that have a viable path to four votes are Chris Piper and Kathy Austin.”
Campbell leaned back and said, “I’m sorry to say you are seeing it” correctly.
Livingston soon moved to appoint Piper, with Russell as second, and it was approved, 4-2, with Campbell and Goodman-Campbell opposed.
With that decision, some of the few people on hand began to leave. That prompted Russell to say “before people walk out” that “I am personally committed in our goal-setting session that we address diversity, equity and inclusion.” Which brought a laugh from Campbell.
So councilors didn’t have much left to say during council action and reports. But Campbell said she’d be at the upcoming Women’s March in Bend while “our mayor will be at a party in Portland for our Democratic governor. That’s all I have to say.” Russell said she’d also be at Portland’s women’s event, herself.
Piper will be sworn in later this month to fill out the remaining two years of Russell’s council term. While some councilors and others have said the choice should go to voters, City Attorney Nary Winters and others have noted the current city charter dictates that the council shall choose someone to fill a vacancy within 30 day of it being declared – and if they cannot, then it goes to voters.