Melanie Kebler for Bend City Council Position #1
Candidate: Melanie Kebler
Office: Bend City Council Position #1
Opponent: Justin Livingston (R)
Oregon League of Conservation Voters
Oregon Working Families Party
United Food and Commercial Workers Local 555
Central Oregon Labor Chapter
Q & A with Indivisible Bend
If you align with a particular political party, or abstain from choosing a political party, why do you make that choice?
I align with the Democratic Party and I’m an active member of the Deschutes Democrats. I’m a Democrat because I believe everyone in America should be free from racism and discrimination, have access to affordable healthcare, benefit from clean air and water, be treated fairly in their job, and get a fair chance at opportunities to improve their life and the lives of future generations. These are some of the values I believe the Democratic Party represents, and though the Party is not perfect and includes people that I disagree with on some issues, it is the Party that most aligns with my vision of what America can and should be.
If elected to Bend City Council, what are your top three priorities?
My top three priorities are the work we need to do on creating an equitable transportation system, aggressively addressing our housing crisis by creating more affordable and accessible homes, and becoming a leader in the fight against climate change.
I want to approach all of these issues through a lens of recognizing that each policy area the City touches has in the past and continues to leave out certain voices in our community, and can cause disparate harm to those historically marginalized groups. When we talk about setting a goal of zero traffic deaths or serious injuries for our transportation system, we have to think about how traffic enforcement is disproportionate against Black, Indegenous, and People of Color (BIPOC). When we talk about building new affordable homes, we have to think about the history of land use and housing policy in America and how it has systematically left BIPOC behind. When we talk about climate change and climate justice, we have to think about how BIPOC communities are feeling the effects of the climate crisis more acutely. This is the approach I will take when tackling what I see as the three most important issues Bend faces as we grow.
How can Bend City Council affect equitable outcomes for marginalized communities? You can choose a particular issue like hiring practices, or legislation, or policy changes, etc.
I believe the City should start by implementing all of the recommendations of the BIPOC-led DEI Task Force, including establishing a full Human Rights and Equity Commission with staff support to do their work. We especially need to eliminate barriers to residents serving on committees that advise Council. This means overhauling our application process and exploring how we can pay stipends to committee members, provide child care if needed, and other investments we can make that will allow more diverse voices to be present on these committees. The City also needs to look inward to its own staff and internal practices, and meaningfully respond with concrete action to the results of a recent staff DEI survey conducted by Allyship in Action. Finally, I believe the City and City Councilors need to rethink our engagement with communities of color and seek new ways to involve our BIPOC residents in the conversation about solutions to the challenges Bend is facing in the future. We need to go out to these communities to get their input, instead of requiring them to come to us. I believe these are the first steps to creating a local government that produces more equitable outcomes for marginalized communities. Also, City leaders should not be afraid to publicly state that Black lives matter - this is a human rights statement, not a political one.
Hindsight is 20/20, what’s important is that we learn from our experiences. What lessons have you learned from Bend City Council's COVID-19 response?
I believe that Council’s ability to respond to the COVID-19 situation has been hampered by the fact that the Council meets only twice a month and did not hold an emergency meeting on the topic of COVID until halfway through the year. I think it’s time for our local government to reassess our meeting structure and communications plans to prepare for times of crisis, when frequent data updates and policy adjustments are needed. And I have learned that we need to replace some of our Council members, including my opponent, with leaders that will listen to scientific experts and make policy choices in a pandemic based on mitigating risk to residents and promoting overall public health as much as possible at the City level.
What do you think Bend City Council should do in response to the recent event with ICE and Customs & Border Patrol creating terror amongst our immigrant community?
I would like to see Bend City Council engage in real community discussion about how we treat our immigrant neighbors. I was extremely proud to see our community stand up peacefully in the face of what I consider to be cruel execution of immigration laws by our federal government, done in violation of the legal due process we all should have access to in this country. I believe we need to continue to listen to our communities of color and that the City should take this moment to truly hear from local groups about their lived experience in Bend, so the City can start to find ways that it can help. I believe City Council should ask for a full after-action report from Police Chief Mike Krantz and make sure that he and City Manager Eric King make any policy adjustments needed to improve police response to ICE activity and peaceful protest in Bend in the future. I believe City Council should be exploring any policy objectives they can that will help to ensure appropriate police response and that will send a strong message to the Bend community that we support our immigrant neighbors and condemn any violation of their human rights, including exploring a resolution on Bend’s status as a sanctuary city.
How will you represent the BIPOC community in Bend?
I want our City to be a place where everyone who lives here can truly access their local government and be heard. Right now, that’s not the type of City we are. An important first step for everyone in leadership positions at the City is to admit systemic racism exists in Bend, and take concrete actions to become an anti-racist government organization. As a Councilor, it will be my job to listen, hear, learn from, and act upon the concerns, ideas, and recommendations of our BIPOC residents.
Our City should proactively and intentionally work to engage communities of color in Bend, breaking away from the typical “public comment” model that is not inclusive or equitable.
Our City should invest in permanent DEI staffing, create and support a Human Rights Commission, and take a hard internal look at City government culture and practices so we can begin to dismantle the baked-in racism that no community in America is immune to. In 2021, when the next Council is seated, I want to set specific, measurable DEI goals that will push us to do the work we should have started doing so many years ago.
By centering BIPOC voices and viewpoints, and emphasizing BIPOC input during decision making, the City can help Bend become a better place for all of us.
As of today, which individuals or groups are your three biggest donors?
Roger Worthington (owner of Worthy Brewing) - $1000
Laurel Yocom (My mom) - $1000
Karon Johnson - $700
What brought you to Central Oregon? What do you like best about this place we call home?
I grew up in Bend, graduating from Bend High in 2001. After going away to college and law school and working as an attorney in several Oregon cities, I returned in 2018 to my hometown in order to raise my daughter here and be near my family. I love the high desert and I feel incredibly privileged to have grown up with easy access to mountains, lakes, rivers, hiking, and more that fostered my love of the outdoors. I have many friends for life that still live in town, and I’m thrilled to see the increasing diversity of Bend’s population. I remember Bend as it used to be, I see the way Bend has changed up to now, and I’m so excited for Bend’s potential as we grow from a small town to a little city.