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For Bend’s next mayor, a short stint could be a hard sell

File photo of the Bend City Council chambers.
Bradley W. Parks
File photo of the Bend City Council chambers.

When Bend Mayor Sally Russell abruptly resigned last week, she left city councilors in the position of quickly needing to find a replacement.

But with a mayoral election just five months away — and multiple candidates already declared — it’s unclear just how desirable Russell’s job will be in the interim.

Bend residents will vote for mayor and two other council seats up in November. So far, sitting council member Melanie Kebler has announced her intention to run for mayor.

Former city council member Chris Piper, who was appointed in 2019 but did not win election in 2020, has also announced his candidacy. The official filing period does not start until June 1.

The City Council is expected to select a short-term mayor among their own ranks at Wednesday’s meeting.

But the job could be a gamble. Any current council member appointed as mayor would have to forfeit their seat to assume Russell’s soon-expiring term, with no guarantee of winning the November election. Four of the city councilors, including Kebler, are serving terms that don’t end until 2024.

Once the officials choose a leader, it opens the door for them to appoint an entirely new city council member within 30 days. But that person could also soon be replaced by voters. Given the crunched timeline, the council might opt to leave the seat open until the general election.

Officials acknowledged Russell’s timing was inconvenient, but stressed that the city’s work would continue unabated.

“It is a little awkward being this close to the election, but I think we’ll just go through the process,” Kebler said.

Some council members said Russell did not inform her colleagues of her resignation prior to announcing it publicly. Russell said she decided to retire because she was exhausted, and found difficulty balancing the demands of what she called a “volunteer position.”

The mayor receives a monthly stipend of $1,000 a month, while other councilors are paid $500. Conversations have already started about increasing pay for Bend’s elected officials, according to multiple council members. Any pay bumps would only apply to future elected officials.

Council members said the mayor faces an additional level of scrutiny, without much additional power or compensation.

The city has had an elected leader since 2018, when residents voted to alter the city charter. The mayor runs meetings, helps set agenda items and often serves as the public face of the council. The city manager, Eric King, still runs the day-to-day operations of the city.

Copyright 2022 Oregon Public Broadcasting. To see more, visit Oregon Public Broadcasting.

Joni Land