The Bend City Council shrunk at its regular meeting on May 18, with both Mayor Sally Russell and Councilor Rita Schenkelberg resigning near the end of the meeting. Russell's term expires at the end of December and Schenkelberg's runs until the end of 2023.
Russell cited exhaustion after the past four years of pandemic, social unrest and environmental disasters. Schenkelberg (they/them) said balancing a full-time job while working as a City Councilor and harassment over their race and nonbinary gender identity became untenable.
- Jack Harvel
- Bend Mayor Sally Russell, left, and Bend City Councilor Rita Schenkelberg, right, made their last appearances as elected officials at Bend City Council's regular meeting on May 18.
"They're both very human-focused, emotionally involved positions," Schenkelberg told the Source just before their resignation. "The other piece is the harassment around all of my identities was wearing me down and being it was very unsustainable for me."
City Councilors heaped praise on Schenkelberg for bringing a distinct voice to the City Council and Russell for a decade of service. Several fought tears while apologizing to Schenkelberg for the harassment they've been subject to since starting their term.
"We had a conversation about how we could support you, and I feel like we have just failed you and I am so sorry for failing you," Bend City Councilor Megan Perkins said after Schenkelberg officially resigned.
City Councilor and Mayor Pro Tem Gena Goodman-Campbell replaced Russell as mayor after fellow City Councilors nominated her. Goodman-Campbell said during her appointment that City Council meetings will look different with a working mom leading them.
"It always will look different every time we have a different mayor at the helm, because everybody is different in their styles," Goodman-Campbell told the Source. "It's really healthy for an elected body to have different perspectives and different viewpoints with different life experiences in our leaders."
The City Council has 30 days to replace the two vacated seats, and if it fails to do so they will be up for election in November. Schenkelberg said they hope their replacement understands the challenges of public life and can represent voices that may not be present on the current City Council.
"I hope that they fully understand the position and feel like that's something sustainable for them," Schenkelberg said. "I hope that they have a focus in diversity and understanding how important representation is. I hope that they feel energized and wanting to continue to make changes at the city government level."
City Councilors Megan Perkins, Melanie Kebler and the new Mayor Pro Tem Anthony Broadman will take the first steps of reviewing applicants and making recommendations.
"We haven't discussed any specific priorities and will be most focused on somebody who we believe can come up to speed quickly and do the job effectively," Goodman-Campbell said. "I think Rita's perspective as a renter was incredibly valuable on Council, and it is something that we'll be keeping in mind as we go through this process."
The City Council last appointed a member of City Council in June of 2019, when it chose Chris Piper to replace the seat Russell vacated when she assumed the role of Bend's mayor. The decision drew controversy for its lack of clarity in process, the partisan framing of balancing the City Council, an officially non-partisan position and choosing Piper over a member of an unrepresented group.
The appointment happened at the start of Goodman-Campbell's tenure, and she said the City Council will seek to avoid the same criticisms this time around by having a concrete process drawn out in the council rules.
"I think it is helpful when you're in this time of change and uncertainty to have a process to walk through," she said. "Having observed how that process went in 2019, two of us from the inside and three from the outside, we're all really committed to having that dialogue be public."