The Independence Hotel feels immense pride in its community, and nothing makes a community strong like its citizens. That’s why we are so excited to announce our new local leadership series, highlighting some of the individuals who work tirelessly to keep Independence thriving, fun, and accessible to everyone. Today, we had the pleasure to sit and chat with City Councilperson Kate Schwarzler. Read our Q&A with Kate below and learn all about her journey to Councilwoman, her plans for the future of Independence, and the ways citizens and visitors alike can help make a difference in the area!

Q&A With City Councilperson Kate Schwarzler:

IH: Hi Kate! We are doing a series on local leadership, and we’re so excited to spotlight you and the work you do for our community. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself, your background, and your journey to becoming a city councilperson?

KS: Of course! I grew up in a small, rural town of Oregon, and have always had a love for rural communities just based on that. But when I graduated from high school, the message was sort of… you need to leave to find a career, or you can stay and commute… but there were no local job opportunities. So I left and went to college. My bachelor’s degree is in landscape architecture, which I still practice, and that led me to traveling all over, where I got to work on some amazing projects with amazing people. Afterwards though, I went back to school, got my MBA, and just kind of did a complete career shift. Long story short, I got back to Oregon and decided to stay here in Independence, where my parents live. From there, I started getting involved more actively at the local level, volunteering and serving on boards of commissions, and then eventually city counselor. The whole election process was eye opening, and I learned a great deal about how changes get made. Now it’s been about to two years!

IH: What does a typical day in your life as a councilperson looks like?

KS: There isn’t really a typical day, but I’d say it comes down to hearing what people need. What I really appreciate about the city council position is that you’re representing members of the public. So it’s a great reason to connect with people and to hopefully identify what the goals and priorities are of the community. Let’s say a water main breaks on a street, what needs to happen for that to get fixed? Or what hoops need to be jumped through in order to get a new park approved? A lot of this job is becoming the eyes and ears for the community, and learning about what a specific community’s concerns are, as well as what they appreciate. I help make sure we keep those things going by understanding policies and procedures. And collectively, we come up with the priorities for our community.


IH: What are some of the changes you hope to see in Independence over the next decade or so?

KS: Oh, gosh, I don’t know that ‘changes’ would be the way I would phrase it. But I look at the issues that are facing our community. We have housing needs that are significant. How do we keep housing affordable for people? Or even really obtainable? We have infrastructure needs when it comes to simply keeping up with our growth as a community, and we have some aging infrastructure that’s not exactly exciting to replace. It’s kind of like putting work into an unseen part of your house. You’d rather spend money on the things that are flashy, like painting and flowers and stuff that makes a big impact. But you have to replace your sewer pipe, that’s not something that’s fun to spend your money on. You don’t really see it, yet it’s necessary for your house to work. That’s essentially a big part of this job.

With that said, we have a great city manager in the public works division, and we’re focusing on long term plans. How do we tackle these issues? And how do we stay on top of them? We need to make sure that we’re continually doing these updates and maintenance VS letting things get to the point where they’re broken. I’m a big advocate for anything like that. Where we can really manage our resources well and stay on top of maintaining them.

In addition to that, I’m a big advocate for parks and recreation (not surprising given my background). We have such a wonderful community and really unique assets being right here on the river. And we’ve got great trails and parks and I would love to do more with that. But it’s expensive, right? There’s an expense to build these things, and then also to maintain them. So we need to make sure that we’re balancing our budget, and we’re getting all of our priorities in order.

IH: It’s so cool that you worked as a landscape architect! Are you still doing that in addition to your work as a city councilperson?

KS: Yes. I have a consulting business through which I work on projects. And I also own the local co-working space Indie Commons. Check out details here! We do a lot to help support small business owners and entrepreneurs.

IH: As a local leader, what does success mean to you?

KS: I think success is when we can come together as a community, and we’re living in a time right now where things feel like they can be very divided. I value the ability to work together and to understand that we don’t have to always agree on things to do what we think is best for the community. Success is where people are willing to put aside their own personal opinions at times for the greater good of the area. Another way of looking at it is that success is a vibrant community that has opportunities for everybody. Like I mentioned earlier, where I grew up, it was kind of like, If you want a career, you’re going to have to leave. So now I worry about whether or not we have good jobs that are attainable for people. Do we have housing that’s sustainable to people? Do we have a healthy, lively community where our business owners and community members are thriving? It would certainly be a success if we felt like we had a community that was really just as a whole, meeting the needs of our citizens.

IH: What would you say are some of the best ways for citizens to get involved in the community or local government?

KS: I would love to help get people involved! We actually have a real need for that, and it doesn’t have to be super time intensive. We live in a time where people are very busy. I recognize that. But it can be anything from arts and culture, to the political side of things. You can sit on a board for local staples like our museums or libraries. Or if you don’t want to sit on a board, there are endless volunteer opportunities to do outside projects. If you want to get involved, check out the city’s website . It usually has a list of all the openings on boards and commissions and it’s a really great way to get involved and understand how cities work.

I wish we had civics education because we’ve noticed that people don’t have a good understanding anymore regarding how cities work and what role people play. Like, what role does the city manager play versus a mayor? So getting involved can really help people understand and highlight the issues that are facing our community.

IH: What would you say? Is your favorite part of being a City Councilperson and what would you say is the biggest challenge?

KS: One of my favorite things about it is actually seeing how all the pieces fit together. And it’s pretty complex if you think about all the different departments that are in the city and having to balance those needs, whether it’s between police and public works, or parks, libraries and museums. They all have employees that have needs and a payroll. And I really like looking at that bigger picture of what it takes to run this city. What are all the parts and pieces that need to be functioning in order for the city to be successful? I like strategizing and looking towards the future, because the things that we’re doing on the ground today, and the policies we are putting in place are what is going to help shape things down the road.

The part that I don’t like is budget cuts. We have to prioritize them. We have to make really hard decisions because we (unfortunately) don’t have unlimited resources. That’s where it gets difficult. In addition to that, I’d also say responding to people that don’t seem to have an interest in understanding how the city works or the parameters that the city works within. Sometimes people just feel like, “Well, we want that so make it happen.” But there are a lot of state laws that we’re working with. There are a lot of mandates that are handed down that we may not like as a city, yet we have to do it. We have to make it work. And so that can be tricky to navigate sometimes.

IH: So when you’re having a tough day or you’re facing a particularly overwhelming challenge, how would you motivate yourself to keep going?

KS: The truth is the problem will still be there tomorrow, so you need to find a way to tackle it and do your due diligence. Because these decisions do have weight to them. I don’t want to ever be flippant about that. So really research the topic and talk with people. Then, if you get too caught up in it, sometimes you need to take a step away. Go take a walk along the nice park that we have. Clear your head. But overall, understanding that there’s a bigger picture that we’re doing this for motivates me. It’s not about me. It’s about what’s best for this community.

IH: What would you say is your leadership style?

KS: I definitely like being inclusive. I like getting input from people, and I like getting the diversity of sides. That input ultimately makes for a better decision, even though it can be hard. So I would say my leadership style is to be inclusive wherever possible, and to really hear from people, integrating different opinions into the decision-making process.

IH: What is one issue that you think is pressing for Independence right now?

KS: Well, I would say that every city right now is facing budget issues. I mean, Salem, Eugene, it’s all in the headlines right now. And it’s the way that our property tax system is run. And it’s unfortunate because it’s at a time when we have inflation and people are feeling the pinch at home. Costs are going up, and so we have some really tough decisions that we’ll have to balance to make sure that we understand and support the priorities of the community. So I would say the pressing issue right now is how do we help protect our community, and get everyone through this? And in addition, how do we keep up with our infrastructure, so we’re not facing physical issues down the line?

IH: On a different note, what is something about you that might surprise people?

KS: I like playing hockey! And I’m looking for a team in Oregon if anyone wants to start. [Hint to the locals reading this.] I play defense

IH: You touched on this before, but do you have any advice for people hoping to get started in local leadership?

KS: Yes, reach out and talk to people! Any of the city councilors, the mayor, or really anyone that works for the city. Don’t be shy about reaching out. All it takes is to sit down with somebody that’s already on one of the boards or commissions and ask them about their experience, what they like about it and what they don’t like about it. What do they wish they knew before they got started? That kind of thing. Just don’t hesitate to connect with your public officials, because that’s our job. That’s why we do this… to really hear from the community. And I know for me, that’s one of the things that I enjoy the most: talking with people and getting them excited about our community and also understanding what their concerns are. Learn about the opportunities and the time commitments and the impact that you can make. Because that’s what’s so rewarding. Learning that your time is both valuable and valued here. Sometimes people feel like maybe they don’t have the right background or skills, but we really want to hear from everybody, that diversity on our board is important.

IH: Last questions, for people visiting, what would you say is a must-see in Independence?

KS: Definitely our river. I’ve lived all over, and I think we take for granted how unique and wonderful it is that we live along this stretch of the Willamette River. Also the Inspiration Garden in the summer is pretty phenomenal. And spend time in our downtown! We’ve got really cute shops. But don’t forget to take a ride on the trolley. It’s super fun, even if it’s just a quick loop. It’s super cute on the inside too!

The truth is, you can’t go wrong in Independence. But why take our word for it when you can come and see it for yourself! Book your stay at The Independence Hotel, check out the results of Councilperson Kate Schwarzler’s hard work, and maybe find the inspiration to become a local leader of your own community!