Pendleton city councilor and senior citizen advocate John Brenne died Monday morning of cardiac arrest. He was 73.
Brenne’s wife, Patricia, described his death as “a shock,” but declined to make further statement.
A 40-year veteran of the city council, Brenne had already filed paperwork to run for an 11th term in the upcoming municipal election. He represented Ward 1 on the council, which covers a wide swath of central and east Pendleton that includes the downtown area, South Hill and Riverside.
A city statement on Brenne’s death described him as a “fierce advocate for seniors and low-income citizens,” a reputation he cultivated since he was first elected in 1978 at the age of 33.
The longtime executive director of Pendleton’s Foster Grandparents program, Brenne supported creating a low-cost public transportation system for seniors. Other positions Brenne took during his campaign included increasing access for disabled citizens in public facilities, establishing a youth center and creating the Pendleton River Parkway, seven years before the first leg of the river walk was dedicated.
As news spread about his death Monday, Brenne’s colleagues and contemporaries remembered the city council stalwart.
Phillip Houk served with Brenne for 23 years, first as a fellow member of the city council and then as mayor before Houk retired from municipal politics in 2016.
Houk said Brenne was a “team player” who was involved in Pendleton government during times of change for the city, including the conversion of the state hospital into a state prison, the growth of the travel trailer manufacturing industry and multiple Main Street revitalization efforts.
While generally keeping a positive disposition, Houk said Brenne was sensitive to criticism of the city.
“He really did want to do the right thing for the right reasons,” Houk said.
Council President Neil Brown described Brenne as a man of integrity, and said though he may have often been silent at council meetings, he was an active force for the city. His work on the Pendleton Development Commission and writing grants made a real impact, Brown said, and he always had Pendleton’s best interest at heart.
“He knew where you just spin your wheels and where you get traction,” Brown said.
On a personal note, Brown said Brenne was the councilor who made him feel comfortable when he first joined the council.
Steve Bjerke served with Brenne from 1997 to 2010 and recalled him as a councilor who could be counted on to provide good input during debates, rarely missing meetings.
“He was a person who was virtually always there,” he said.
In written statement, Mayor John Turner called Brenne “a warm-hearted individual who always encouraged the council to consider the human side effects of its decisions,” while George Murdock, the chairman of the Umatilla County Board of Commissioners, said he was an “important force in the world of both social services and public service.”
During the Jan. 16 development commission meeting, Brenne reported that he was working with city officials to secure grants for a boat launch on the Umatilla River and a team of interns that would help the city attract more housing.
The task of replacing Brenne now lies with the city council.
City Recorder Andrea Denton said the council will declare a vacancy at its next meeting and begin the process of appointing a replacement to fill the final year of Brenne’s term. If the replacement wishes to serve beyond 2018, they will have to file for office by March 6 and run in the May 15 municipal election.
John Cook, a retired member of the Pendleton Fire Department, filed for the Ward 1 seat Monday.
Contact Antonio Sierra at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-966-0836.