Cherriots to get two new faces on its board of directors

Cherriots buses. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

The board overseeing Cherriots is on its way to becoming younger and more diverse.

Earlier this month, Gov. Kate Brown announced three appointments to the seven-member board that oversees the Salem Area Mass Transit District.

The appointments include Sara Duncan, a longtime Salem resident who manages Sassy Onion Catering; María Cecilia Hinojos Pressey, a current board member who works as operations manager for farmworkers union PCUN; and Ramiro Navarro Jr., an Army veteran from Keizer.

Cherriots board was previously elected until 2019 when a change to state law made the positions appointed by the governor. The nominations go to the Oregon Senate for confirmation for a four-year appointment.

Ian Davidson, president of the Cherriots board of directors, said he wasn’t sure what direction the new appointees would take the board in but described them as “high-quality candidates.” He also said the board’s demographic characteristics would be different.

“With these appointments, the board will be its youngest and most diverse in the district’s history,” he said.

If appointed, three out of seven of the board’s members would be people of color and a majority would be women.

Cherriots covers a 76-square-mile area in Salem, Keizer and the mid-Willamette valley with over two dozen bus lines. With a $94.6 million budget for the current fiscal year, the agency is seeking to reduce the environmental impact of its fleet, increase service and build a new south Salem transit center.

Duncan, Pressey and Navarro couldn’t be reached for interviews as of Thursday afternoon. But their applications, obtained through a public records request, provide insight on their backgrounds and priorities for Cherriots.  

Sara Duncan

If confirmed, Duncan, 26, would replace outgoing Robert Krebs, a retired Oregon Transportation Department worker. 

A 2017 graduate of Concordia University in Portland, Duncan said in her application that many of her coworkers rely on public transit to get to work. She also said she has narcolepsy with cataplexy, a disabling daytime sleeping disorder.

“I am unable to drive myself long distances and many of the riders I interact with on a regular basis also have limitations in their abilities to drive,” she said in her application. “My intention is to take a proactive approach to make sure there is an efficient public transit option available to everyone now and into the future.”

In her application, Duncan also said “community leaders have an obligation to create the opportunity for disparate minority voices to be heard.” She said she wanted to make the bus system more accessible for families who live in outlying neighborhoods or people with language or cultural barriers.

María Cecilia Hinojos Pressey

Pressey, who is currently running for Salem-Keizer School Board, would serve her a full four-year term if confirmed by the Senate. She was appointed to the board last year of finish the term of Doug Rodgers after he resigned.

Pressey said in her application that she’s a first-generation Mexican-American and has worked with a refugee resettlement agency and as a Latinx community advocate at the Domestic Violence Resource Center. Pressey, 26, graduated from the University of New Mexico in 2017 and in 2019 with a master’s from Arizona State University.

She currently serves on Cherriots citizen’s advisory committee and the city of Keizer’s Points of Interest Committee.

“Transit services are one of the most vital systems for cities, and would love to see increased ridership and a deeper connection between Cherriots and the areas they serve,” she said in her application.

Ramiro Navarro

Navarro would replace Colleen Busch, who was elected to the board in 2015.

According to his application, Navarro’s father was an immigrant worker from Mexico and his mother a local teacher for the Salem-Keizer School District.

He said he joined the U.S. Army when he was 18 and served from 2008 to 2011. His application describes how he struggled with reintegration after returning from Iraq, received a felony marijuana-related conviction and was homeless for nearly two years after being incarcerated.

Now seven years sober, he serves as a program coordinator for Project ABLE, providing peer support to veterans struggling with mental health and drug addiction.

Navarro, in his application, credited public transit for playing a key role in his recovery.

“It was public transportation that helped me get home when I started my recovery from addiction(;) it was public transportation that got me to appointments and college classes,” he said. “A huge part of my recovery depended on public transportation and for that I will always be grateful.”

He said he’s worked with the city of Keizer to translate Covid relief information into Spanish, according to his application. He also worked with local newspapers during the wildfires to translate public health information into Spanish.

“I see an opportunity to address ways to outreach to local communities of color and increase ridership by having information available in different languages,” he said in his application.

He said that people of color face a particular struggle in accessing public transportation in rural areas. 

Contact reporter Jake Thomas at 503-575-1251 or [email protected] or @jakethomas2009.

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