Wednesday evening was the first Bend City Council meeting of the year — time for a few new faces to take their seats.
New city councilors Ariel Mendez and Mike Riley were sworn in, as well as new mayor Melanie Kebler.
She’ll be the 67th mayor to sit in the hot seat, and the second mayor elected by popular vote instead of by the city council, the result of a city charter change in 2018.
“It feels like I get a chance to just make my hometown the best it can be,” she told Central Oregon Daily News on Wednesday.
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Kebler is also the fourth woman ever to hold to seat, a group that includes Bend’s last mayor, Sally Russell.
“In recent years, I feel like there’s been a surge of women who are excited to step into politics and are excited to be elected and lead in their communities, and I feel like I’m kind of a part of that wave as well as our former mayor,” Kebler said.
She’s been a city councilor for two years, sworn in during the height of the pandemic in November 2020. Enough time to figure out how she would lead in the hot seat.
“I think I just probably have a little different style as a leader than maybe mayors we’ve had in the past,” Kebler said. “Something that I’ve wanted to be really good at is being a leader and leading the council as a team, leading the city staff and the community as a big team, all working together on Bend’s future.”
Kebler steps into office as Bend faces a surge in population, a growing number of homeless community members, and rising housing costs.
A balancing act to maintain small-town warmth amid big-city issues.
“That’s a really big focus of all of our future planning,” she said. “It’s got to be, how do we tackle our challenges? How do we have enough housing? How do we make bed more affordable for more people while maintaining our spirit and our sense of community?”
That ‘sense of community’, Kebler said, is a core value of the city.
“Bend is still a place you can run into friends and people at the grocery store, or at the pub, or at the park. It’s still a place where we have an incredible natural environment that we all get to enjoy and really value,” she said. “So I think for the future, that’s one way to kind of hold on to what we are as a community, even as we look to how we can get the homes that we need and get the infrastructure that we need so that we can be a sustainable, growing city.”
It’s like coming full circle, she says, to take the top position in the town where she grew up, serving in student leadership at Bend High.
“I don’t think my younger self would be too surprised to see me here,” Kebler said.
Maybe not a surprise…but the fulfillment of a purpose.
“Bend is my home, it just feels like my home,” Kebler said, through tears. “And I’m just so proud of what we’ve done, and I’m just so excited for what we’re going to do. And I just know that we’re going to make Bend a better place for even more people that live here, and really hopefully lift a lot of people out of situations that aren’t ideal in tough times.”
Other changes Kebler hopes to bring to the table are greater involvement in community education on important issues, and advocating with county, state and federal governments on collaborating to get the resources the city needs.
“I really want our city to believe in itself, and to know that we’re a place that we get through hard times,” she said. “Bend has done it several times before. We’ve had recent hard times. We’ve been through a pandemic, we’ve been through tragedy, and we’re a strong community. So it’s important to me that we keep fostering that and that we just keep pushing forward for sure.”
The swearing-in ceremony took place during the council meeting on Wednesday at 7 p.m.