2020 Year in Review

Council institutes camping ban

In January, the Keizer City Council established a camping ban in the city intended to prevent homeless individuals from claiming sections of sidewalks and rights-of-way. The move followed similar action by the City of Salem a month earlier. Testimony from residents who spoke at a public hearing on the matter largely favored alternatives to outright banning such activity, but the council passed the new ordinance unanimously.

KLL park’s future remains murky

A series of task force meetings that many hoped would find a way to reunite Keizer’s youth baseball and softball programs ended with the Keizer Little League (KLL) and McNary Youth Baseball still as far apart as ever. Keizer Little League’s management contract at Keizer Little League Park was extended to 2021 because of the pandemic, but what happens next remains to be seen. At some point in the coming months, the city is likely to begin accepting bids for a new park management contract that would give the operators more authority. KLL officials have expressed interest in partnering with for-profit tournament organizers in a co-management role. While bids with local ties are expected to be given a preference, anyone with the right plan could still swoop in. In the meantime, a former KLL president announced the establishment of a third youth league in hope of drawing all players and families back under one organization.

Successes at MHS draws spotlight

McNary was a beacon of success for the district in graduation rates in 2019. It was among the top performers in the district with a 90.78% graduation rate and 11% higher than the state average. 

Bowling alley changes hands after 53 years

In February, Town & Country Bowling changed hands for the first time in 53 years. Don and Ann Lebold opted to retire after an epic run as the owners. The new owner is Valor Mentoring, which renamed the space The Rec in addition to adding a recording studio and a greater variety of entertainment options for customers. 

And, of course, a pandemic

When history is written, it will be nothing short of a miracle if 2020 becomes known for anything other than the COVID-19 pandemic.

The first positive COVID-19 tests on U.S. Shores were discovered in mid-February, within two weeks, the first case in Marion County was announced. By the end of the month, school and sports were canceled, there was no toilet paper to be found and many of us were staying home in a massive effort to save lives. As of this month, more than 800 Oregonians have died as a result of the novel coronavirus adding to a devastating nationwide count of more than 300,000, and more than 1.7 million worldwide. 

While vaccines are on the horizon, it still feels like there’s a long way to go before the pandemic is over, and longer until we heal the divides it has caused. 

Keizer responds to COVID-19

The pandemic changed everyday life dramatically and quickly, but Keizerites responded with love and kindness. These are just a few of the things that we covered: 

• The Keizer Stake of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints helped arrange for a semi-truck load of food to be delivered to the Marion Polk Food Share.

• Sewing machines across the city fired up to make masks for relatives, friends and first responders. 

• One Keizer woman delivered a birthday cake to a boy who would otherwise have gone without.

• Teachers paraded through the neighborhoods of their students. 

• And, Mariella Dibble celebrated her 100th birthday drive-thru style. 

The switch to distance education

Nearly two quarters in, distance learning might not be as foreign as when it began in April, but everyone still yearns for the before-times. After canceling in-person classes in April, the Salem-Keizer School district made a quick shift to distance learning. While the effort was Herculean, it fell short for students, parents, teachers and most everyone else. It began again this fall with greater success, but the need for one-on-one interaction became all the more evident when the district announced a staggering number of students who were failing classes. Many were able to pull out of the tailspin, but the experience serves as a constant reminder of the grace we need to extend each other as family, friends and neighbors. 

Kai rides again

In October 2019, 6-year-old Kai-Orn Ellertson was riding his bike across River Road North in a crosswalk when he was struck by a turning SUV. 

The crash resulted in a traumatic brain injury and left friends, family and strangers fearing for Kai’s life. Fortunately, he made a miraculous recovery. 

“Even as he walked out of the hospital, the doctors said they had never seen anything like it,” said Sophal Hong, Kai’s mother. 

In May, Kai received a replacement bike and helmet from the Salem Bicycle Club and and the Keizer Bike Helmet Program. Within minutes he was off and riding around the Keizer Civic Center parking lot. 

City data held for ransom

In June, the City of Keizer’s computers were hacked and its data held hostage until the hackers received a $48,000 ransom. While the hack was a major event for Keizer, the city was simply another public agency victim of hackers targeting cities small and large throughout the country.  

In response, the city has undergone major overhauls of its network and security practice, but it is also still recovering from the experience in many ways. Keizer Finance Director Tim Wood said recently that the latest need was for new laptops, which became a hot commodity when the pandemic hit and he’s watched prices climb steadily as inventory shifts.

A civic stain removed

Throughout the year, one of the major agenda items in city hall was revising the city charter. A task force cleaned up the organization of the document, transitioned it to less gendered language and backed the removal of an entire section that marginalized LGBTQ+ residents. The city council unanimously backed the task force’s recommendations and then the voters backed the new document in a landslide vote. An effort that began more than two years ago has resulted in a change that will make the city safer for everyone. 

Whisper to roar

Not long after the death of a Minneapolis man (George Floyd) at the hands of police officers, a steady trickle of Keizer residents began filling the Keizer City Council chambers demanding action on an inclusivity resolution similar to those passed by other government bodies and agencies throughout the Willamette Valley. 

It’s a move city councilors had balked at making, but by the end of November, cries that started as a whisper evolved into a roar for action. With each passing week, more and more residents turned out to request the resolution and then demanded an increasingly more meaningful version of it. The council unanimously approved a statement of values in December. The statement is likely now one of the most declarative in the state. 

The city council hot seats

For the first time in recent memory, the city saw all three of its city council races contested. When the dust had settled, Keizer retained Councilor Laura Reid for a second term and selected businessman Kyle Juran and attorney Ross Day to replace outgoing councilors Marlene Parsons and Kim Freeman. 

Keizerite Danielle Bethell will add to Keizer’s government representation as a Marion County commissioner in January. 

Canyon burns, Keizerites rise

One terror-filled night of fire led to days of fear and upheaval that continues. In September, a wildfire rushed down the side of the Cascade Mountain range destroying homes and weekend retreats for countless Oregonians. In the wake of disaster, Keizerites too numerous to count joined hands to help evacuation efforts, rescue boats and provide relief of all kinds to those fleeing the fires. While the smoke dissipated, there is still a long way to go before restoring those that lost everything.