SPRINGFIELD – With an emphatic “yes” across the board, Springfield City Council on Monday appointed Damien Pitts to the Ward 1 council position.
Pitts is among the few Persons of Color (POC) who have been appointed or elected to the seat, Council acknowledged, with the former being Jesse Maine in the 1980s.
This is also the first time since August 2020 that all mayor and council positions are filled in Springfield. Sean VanGordon was appointed from city councilor to mayor in January, and after a two-week recruitment period, eight people applied for the council position: Pitts, Kelly Mason, Michelle Webber, Thomas Lawrence, Raymond Suit, Troy Allen, Grace Bergen and Timothy Canter.
Council whittled down the eight candidates to Pitts and Mason on Monday, and ultimately decided on Pitts in a 5-0 vote. The decision both shocked and pleased Pitts, he said.
“It was probably one of the few times I was speechless. That doesn’t happen much – believe me,” he said.
He was stunned by the appointment, and shortly thereafter was overwhelmed by congratulatory phone calls and text messages.
“My first reaction was ‘wow, we did this,’” Pitts said. “I operate on the village mentality, meaning that you do very few things alone, and even if you accomplish a feat alone, there are several people who have and will continue to play a part in your success. (Monday) night, all I could do was give thanks.”
Pitts is a veteran, having served in the United States Army as a human intelligence collector and Korean linguist for 10 years.
“I find Damien incredibly refreshing,” said councilor Leonard Stoehr. “He brings a new background and a new perspective to the council. He has experience in community outreach, in organizing and uniting the community, which is desperately needed right now.”
Pitts has a bachelor of arts degree in global studies and a masters in sociology from the University of Tennessee, and is an academic adviser and diversity initiatives specialist in the Lundquist College of Business. He also is the adviser of the University of Oregon Diverse Organization of Business Students, and was appointed adviser Delta Alpha Chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity Inc.
He serves as a board member for the Oregon Trails Council of the Boy Scouts of America, and is a past member of the Lane County Equity and Access Board. Recently, he won the All Campus Academic Advising Award, and the Black Student Union Mentor Award.
About 20% of the Springfield population is diverse, according to the census, and council agreed that Pitts will serve as a voice for those who are under-represented.
“With the issues surrounding POC in Springfield, he would also represent the people who never came to Springfield and wanted to, for whatever the reason,” Stoehr said.
“Maybe because they felt afraid. Maybe because they didn’t feel that they would not be included. It would be a self-fulfilling prophecy to add Damien to council. It would add to the diversity in our community just by giving people the confidence.”
Councilor Kori Rodley has worked with Pitts on the Equity & Access Advisory Board for Lane County. During their time on that board together, “we would very often come at things very differently and did not agree, and he is still my number one candidate. He brings amazing perspective, and an ability to find the conversation which is something that I work very hard to do.”
Councilor Joe Pishioneri said that, in addition to his military career, what stood out most to him was Pitts’ constant mentioning of teamwork. “I think that (teamwork) is so important for this council … that’s how we get things done,” he said.
“I am looking forward to meeting people, and creating pipelines for people to want to get involved, and want to be engaging,” Pitts said. “It is easy to request involvement, but sometimes you have to lead by example. I just want people to see me as that silly dude with the accent who is always trying to feed people, listens to too much slow music, and looks like a teddy bear with teeth. I want people to see me as someone that they can trust, and as someone who is not self-promoting. Let’s do this!”
The next city council meeting is a work session and will be held at 5:30 p.m. on March 8.