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Skorman, Gaebler take Colorado Springs City Council leadership roles

April 18, 2017 Updated: April 19, 2017 at 6:58 am
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photo - Richard Skorman hugs his wife, Patricia Seator, after getting sworn in by Judge HayDen Kane in the old courtroom of the Pioneers Museum on Tuesday, April 18, 2017. Photo by Jerilee Bennett, The Gazette
Richard Skorman hugs his wife, Patricia Seator, after getting sworn in by Judge HayDen Kane in the old courtroom of the Pioneers Museum on Tuesday, April 18, 2017. Photo by Jerilee Bennett, The Gazette 

Only a few hours after being sworn in to the Colorado Springs City Council on Tuesday, a new progressive majority made itself known, electing Richard Skorman council president and re-electing Jill Gaebler to be president pro tem.

The 5-4 votes on each choice found Councilmen Merv Bennett, Andy Pico, Don Knight and Tom Strand suddenly in the minority as Skorman - a downtown businessman with seven years of previous council experience - won the support of Gaebler, Councilman Bill Murray and new members Yolanda Avila and David Geislinger.

Nominated but not elected were Bennett to serve another two years as council president and Knight to be president pro tem.

Bennett had helped the council and Mayor John Suthers establish a collaborative relationship when the mayor was elected two years ago. Chief of Staff Jeff Greene, after congratulating the newly elected leaders, said the mayor and administration "want to express our sincere appreciation to President Bennett. You are a person of true integrity, and we appreciate it very much."

At that, everyone in council chambers burst into applause and came to their feet to give Bennett a standing ovation.

"You're going to make me cry," said Bennett, clearly moved.

Wednesday, the new council will meet for the first time as the Utilities Board and will elect a president and vice president for that panel, too.

Suthers later expressed "heartfelt thanks" to Bennett for his work over the past two years.

"People who don't have the history might think a collaborative relationship between the council and mayor is a given. It's not," he said.

"Businesses inside and outside Colorado Springs pay close attention to that relationship ... I'm very grateful to Merv for the job he did over the past two years."

Suthers said Skorman and Gaebler are very knowledgeable about the city, a great benefit, and he hopes the council and administration will continue to build the momentum he's seen over the past two years on improvements to roads, stormwater infrastructure and economic development.

"They seem totally on board with that," the mayor said. "My hope is we won't see any major distractions that would cause disruption to that momentum."

He declined to specify such distractions.

Suthers strongly opposes retail marijuana sales in the city, though, while most members of the new majority say voters should decide whether such sales should be allowed.

A previous council banned retail pot sales soon after state voters passed Amendment 64 to legalize recreational marijuana in 2012, making Colorado and Washington the first states to do so.

The city ban has been contentious, as political observers say Colorado Springs should be raking in some of the millions of tax dollars derived from such sales in Manitou Springs, Pueblo and Denver.

Tuesday, though, the swearing in of the six council members was marked by tradition, pomp and circumstance in the upstairs courtroom of the circa 1903 Pioneers Museum.

A color guard, invocation and singing of the National Anthem and America the Beautiful preceded the formal induction by Presiding 4th Judicial District Judge HayDen William Kane II.

"I'd like to introduce you to the best-looking councilman by far: Puma," said Bennett, who acted as master of ceremonies.

Puma - guide dog for Avila, who is legally blind - has been a big hit among City Hall denizens, especially Bennett. The canine also received his own identification card to enter City Hall, Avila said later.

Suthers said the ceremony was "something we should celebrate," because unlike many nations, the U.S. enjoys "peaceful transitions of authority and power."

He quoted novelist Wallace Stegner as saying the biggest challenge for the West "is to create communities that match our scenery. All City Council members are stewards of that legacy."

Kane then swore in Knight, Geislinger, Skorman and Avila, on whom he paused to pet Puma, then Gaebler and Pico, with each receiving sustained applause in the packed courtroom.

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