Council President/Westside resident Merv Bennett optimistic about working with new mayorDuring the city election campaign this spring, Merv Bennett emphasized his reputation as a business-savvy leader who is good at solving issues in an amiable manner.
Colorado Springs citizens responded by casting more votes for the Westside resident than any others among the 13 candidates for the three City Council at-large seats.
Council members then voted him their president, which makes him not only the leader of their body for the next two years, but (under the city charter) the next in line should the mayor be unable to fulfill his duties for any length of time.
As a result, Bennett, entering his second four-year term, has become legally the closest person
Bennett welcomes the opportunity to work with Suthers, he made clear in a recent interview, calling it his “biggest priority” as council president. Happily, Bennett said, the mayor seems ready to reciprocate.
“I am encouraged that John wants to work in a cooperative relationship,” Bennett said of talks between the two. “The term he likes to use is 'partnership.'”
An early example is the charter requirement that the mayor and council each develop a “strategic plan.” As Bennett put it, “The charter doesn't say it can't be one plan.” Also, Suthers asked to join the new council in a June brainstorming retreat. Four years ago, for a similar session, council had asked Mayor Steve Bach, but he refused, Bennett said.
Specific new proposals, particularly for funding major projects, are a work in progress. For instance, on the Westside, the large-scale Camp Creek improvements remain unfunded, and answers are still unclear for higher-than-anticipated costs in the multi-jurisdictional project to remake the “no man's land” segment of Colorado Avenue west of 31st Street.
Bennett explained that such infrastructure needs exist city-wide. Staffers have a list ranging from parks to streets with price tags totaling more than $1 billion. It's no secret that some kind of tax increase is under consideration, but the intent is to have any proposal come from the mayor and council in tandem and to plan the details carefully. “If we're going to put something on the ballot, we need to start now," he said.
Bennett was elected to his first council term in 2011, making him the veteran member of the current group. He came in at the same time as Steve Bach, the city's first “strong mayor.”
Bach's four-year term triggered a considerable amount of much-publicized head-butting as he sought to implement his ideas, often whether council liked them or not. Bennett conceded that Bach “could have done things differently” - offering City of Champions as a prime example - but also credited the man with being a “change agent” in leading the transition to the new form of government in which the mayor essentially became the city manager.
Bennett is in a unique position for understanding Bach, having worked with him previously when Bach was a member of the YMCA board; Bennett remembers him as being adamant then as well.
As mayor, “he inherited a horrible situation,” Bennett said, referring to unpopular budget-balancing remedies by the last hired manager, including removing trash cans from parks, turning off street lights and recommending the closure of such operations as the Westside Community Center and Rock Ledge Ranch Historic Site.
Bach not only turned that around, he appointed high-quality department heads, stressed a positive tone through his Spirit of the Springs campaign and effectively handled the two major fires and follow-up flooding, the council president believes. “I think he (Bach) did a tremendous job,” Bennett summarized.
Bennett worked with the YMCA for 40 years, the last 38 after moving from Illinois to Colorado Springs. During his 19 years as the local Y's CEO (before retiring in 2011), the enterprise “grew from a $4 million annual budget to nearly $20 million annually and nine new centers were built,” the city website states.
Married 45 years, he and his wife Roseann live in the Cedar Heights neighborhood.
As for his motivation on council, Bennett parallels it with the Y and its goal of service to the community. “It gives me great pleasure,” he said, “ to work in cooperative, collaborative ways to make that happen.”
Westside Pioneer article