Jacki Shepardson is seeking one of three open seats. photo by Bill Mintiens
Jacki Shepardson is seeking one of three open seats. photo by Bill Mintiens

Jacki Shepardson, 50, has lived in Sisters about 14 years and says she "plans to spend the rest of my life here."

Born in Walla Walla, Washington, and raised in Salem, Oregon, Shepardson got an early start on what would become one of her key strengths - public speaking and debating.

"I was a member of our speech and debate team in high school and was awarded the highest honor you can get from the National Forensic League (a non-profit honorary society created to recognize high school students in speech and debate) for my debating skill," said Shepardson.

Shepardson's early training in speech and debate proved valuable when she entered the workplace. She went to work for the DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles) in Salem after high school and worked her way up to clerical specialist.

"At age 21 I became the president of the local union for the Salem DMV, the largest state employee local union at the time. I learned a lot about how government works, got involved with collective bargaining and educating our members," said Shepardson.

She also got involved in state and national politics during this period in her life.

"I testified at senate hearings about workplace safety issues and helped Kulongoski's first campaign run for governor. I also helped campaign for Jimmy Carter's presidential bid," said Jacki.

A firm believer in choice, Shepardson added, "I've always been a registered Democrat because I believe you have more choice. But I have both conservative and liberal tendencies, depending on the issue."

Following her stint with the DMV, Shepardson decided that it was time for higher education. She entered Merit-Davis College in Salem (which no longer exists), earning a certificate in accounting and business management.

At this point in her life, a single mother with two young children, she had to make a choice. Apply for state assistance or find a job to support her family. She chose the latter.

"I was a young woman with two young children and, although I could have gone on unemployment, I self-initiated and went after a job," said Shepardson.

She went to work at the Fairview Training Center in Salem, a state institution for the mentally challenged which no longer exists, as a recreational and music therapy aide.

"I really enjoyed the work because I have a compassionate heart and was directly helping people with the challenges they were facing," she said.

By 1996 Shepardson had remarried and moved to Sisters with her four children, never regretting the move for a moment.

"As a child my father was always taking us over here for adventures, so I knew I liked it here and that it would be a great place to raise my family," she said.

Shepardson has four grown children ages 28, 26, 24, and 22. She also has two children in the Sisters school system, Jessica, 13 and Sam, 10.

Jacki's community involvement includes volunteering in her children's schools, as well as becoming, in 2002, the site coordinator for the Sisters Brown Bag Program. Sponsored by Three Sisters Fellowship, this program provides Sisters families with a bag of groceries each month, one bag per person in each household.

"I find the Brown Bag Program extremely rewarding. I drive to Trader Joe's each week to pick up their donated items. We also receive food from local retailers like Ray's, Richard's Produce, and Sisters Bakery. The need, over the past two years, has escalated tremendously," said Shepardson.

Two years ago the program was averaging about 70 "brown bags" for about 20 families. Now the program averages about 165 bags for 40 families each month.

When asked why she wanted to become a city councilor, Shepardson said, "I thought about running two years ago but I didn't really have the time, now I have the time to devote to the office. And friends who wanted me to run two years ago really pushed me to run this year, saying that the city really needed my voice.

"I'm honest, I know my own mind and I'm compassionate, caring, and intelligent. My friends knew I wouldn't be swayed by anybody for any reason - except for the right reasons. And I'm a very good listener, I will listen to people, ask their opinions, I guess it's the debater in me."

Commenting on the performance of the present city council, Shepardson was very direct:

"I don't think there's enough diversity on the council right now. I see a 'block of voting' and it closes down any and all ideas that might come up. When you have a block of people voting a certain way they make their minds up and they close down wanting to listen to other ideas that might be out there.

"You need to have good intelligent debate on a subject, be kind to one another, and come out of it with a cohesive decision. I don't see consensus happening on the council right now. And I don't think the council has been transparent with themselves, much less the public," added Shepardson.

The candidate has very strong opinions on economic development in the city.

"I believe the three gentlemen on the council (Mayor Kellstrom, Councilors Thompson & Bogart) see economic development as 'building more' and adding more land. I don't believe that's the right thing to do. We have a lot of open storefronts, a lot of empty lots that were developed with nothing on them now and a lot of vacant homes. Before you start annexing land into a city that appears distressed, you should use what's already there. I was against the annexing of land for McKenzie Meadows. We should wait and turn everything else around first. I see this (McKenzie Meadows) becoming just another home subdivision with a lot of empty lots," said Shepardson.

"I believe economic development means adding living-wage jobs that are sustainable. Construction jobs are not sustainable jobs. We need to research other small cities that have turned themselves around, we need to ask them 'what did you do, how did you attract businesses?'" said Jacki.

Regarding major challenges facing Sisters now, Shepardson is also very clear.

"There are not enough living-wage jobs to keep people here. On top of that we also have an awful lot of second homes that rent at high prices. I've seen my children move away from Sisters because of the employment situation and lack of affordable housing. Frankly, I'm worried that Sisters could become a ghost town, especially right now. If the powers in charge aren't careful it could happen," said Shepardson.

She also spoke on the issue of hiring an economic development manager and SBART's (Sisters Business Attraction & Retention Team) volunteer work.

"$30,000 is a lot of money to lay out there and not set up some sort of accountability (in the position description). Everything should have been laid out with the position before you say 'alright now go out and hire someone' (see related story, page 3). Any smart business manager would have done this first. Our city isn't set up where the mayor can just go ahead and make decisions on his own; this is what happened with this position," Shepardson said.

"Regarding SBART, I really don't know what they do, they aren't accountable to anyone and that's a no-win situation. An organization that's working toward attracting businesses needs to be accountable to somebody. The members should be appointed, hired, or at least elected, not be volunteers."

On the influence of PAC's (Political Action Committees) on the Sisters City Council election, Jacki has strong feelings.

"These days elections are bought nationally - and I hate to see that happening in our small town. I've contributed my time to campaigns but I've never contributed money to them. It's taking away from what America's supposed to be, a country where a little guy can step up and become president. I think people in America are starting to wake up and say 'no more,' we're going to take America back to what it's supposed to be," said Shepardson.

On the subject of "block voting," Jacki was quick to say, "Wendy, Sharlene, and I don't agree on every issue; we wouldn't be voting as a block."

The election for Sisters City Councilors takes place on November 2. On October 21 at 7 p.m. at Sisters High School Auditorium, there will be a candidates' forum at which the public can listen to the six candidates' views.