Mayor of Bend, Oregon, resigns, citing pandemic stress

The mayor of Bend, Ore., a mountain town that has seen a population boom due to its recreational opportunities and scenery, called on him to step down on Monday, citing stress from the pandemic, wildfires in forest and homelessness.

“So many historical changes in such a short time. I am just exhausted,” Mayor Sally Russell wrote in an open letter. “It’s in my own interest – and that of my family – to leave.”

Bend was once a quiet industrial town, but after the sawmills closed, it once again became a destination for skiers, retirees and beer lovers – the area having one of the highest microbreweries per capita in the country. In recent years, homeless encampments have sprung up on the outskirts and on some days snow-capped peaks near the Cascade Range have been obscured by smoke from wildfires.

This month, the city council announced that it had purchased a motel near the city center, which will initially serve as a temporary shelter for the homeless.

Deschutes County and Bend, the county seat, have exploded in population, with the county growing 25% in 10 years to about 200,000 residents, according to a Portland State University study. It is the fastest growing county in the state.

Some 100,000 people now live in Bend, with the population nearly doubling in two decades.

Russell announced last month that she would not seek another term. A member of city council will serve as mayor until Russell’s term ends in December. She said her resignation will become effective after the May 18 city council meeting.

“My work as mayor has affected me and my family in so many ways, as we – just like you – faced tremendous social, environmental and economic pressures and the effects of a pandemic. Fires, smoke , heated domes, homelessness,” Russell wrote. She called on residents to participate in city governance, saying, “It’s the only way Bend will continue to thrive.”

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Sandy A. Greer