by Pam Zubeck
The two oldest Colorado Springs City Council members were elected by their colleagues today to leadership positions.
Former state legislator Keith King, 65
64, elected April 2 to represent the southwest District 3, will serve as president, and Merv Bennett, just a few months younger than King who's mid-way through his first four-year at-large term, will serve as president pro tem. Considering Mayor Steve Bach is 70, that means the city's designated leaders are all white men of retirement age.
But the votes for King and Bennett, at a special meeting at 1 p.m. today, were deeply split.
King was chosen as president by a vote of 6-3. Voting for him were Joel Miller, Helen Collins, Bennett, Jill Gaebler, Andy Pico and King, so King took most of the newcomers' votes.
Don Knight, elected April 2 to represent northwest District 1, was nominated by Jan Martin, and got her vote, his own and that of incumbent at-large member Val Snider.
For president pro tem, the vote was closer, 5-4. Bennett faced off with Martin, who served as pro tem the past two years and has the most experience of any councilor, with six years.
Electing Bennett were himself, Collins, King, Miller and Pico. Martin got backing from herself, Knight, Gaebler and Snider.
So the new leadership consists of someone with no experience on Council (King), and someone with very little (Bennett). But that didn't bother Pico. "Keith King has a tremendous amount of legislative experience, and I think it transfers pretty well," he said.
After the vote, Martin noted within two years, she had served with 12 different Council members. "With the one- to two-year learning curve, we will all have to be patient for awhile."
King is seen as the establishment candidate with backing from the moneyed class of Colorado Springs concentrated in the Broadmoor area. These are the very people who elected Mayor Bach two years ago.
Despite that, King and Bennett vowed the Council wouldn't be a rubber stamp for Bach, who is the city's first mayor under the council-mayor form of government adopted in 2010, which vests operational control in the mayor and budget authority in the Council.
Political observers say the first Council president under the new form of government, Scott Hente, never fully exercised the authority given to him under the city's charter and Council rules and procedures. This led to a weak body that was never able to counter the mayor's moves.
But King says that will change. "We will be a strong Council, and have an independent voice in this community," he said after the vote. "We will be sure the voices of our residents will be heard. We will be sure we work together as a team. There will be times we will agree, and times we disagree. We will not make issues of how we disagree or personalize it."
Bennett said he agreed with King but added, "We will be working in cooperation with the mayor. We will stand strong in what we think is best for the community."
A start at that promise might come tomorrow when the newly constituted City Council, with six new members, holds its first Colorado Springs Utilities Board meeting. Word among the well-informed and closely connected was that the board would reject a proposed consultant contract that's supposed to examine selling or leasing Utilities assets, an idea hatched by Bach through his publicly stated desire to investigate Utilities' value and whether it made sense to sell it.
A good number of ratepayers, though, opposed the idea, and voters in the April 2 election chose several new councilors who expressed strong opposition to selling Utilities, among them King, Pico and Miller.
Earlier in the day, at the swearing-in ceremony for the new members — Knight, Miller, King, Collins, Gaebler and Pico — Bach gave a three-minute speech in which he "pledged" to "work together" and closed his remarks by citing a quotation from James Freeman Clarke: "A politician thinks of the next election," Bach said. "A statesman thinks of the next generation."