Merv Bennett had no intention of running for office after retiring as president and CEO of the YMCA of the Pikes Peak Region, but others around town talked him into it.
This week — eight years after he was first elected to the Colorado Springs City Council — the term-limited Bennett participated in his last council meeting. Former Secretary of State Wayne Williams will succeed him.
“Now I can go fishing,” Bennett said with a laugh.
Among his council achievements was the agreement to lease the city-owned Memorial Health System to University of Colorado Health — now called UCHealth — which voters overwhelmingly approved in August 2012.
The lease agreement had support of all nine council members and former Mayor Steve Bach. The deal netted the city $74 million up front and $5.6 million annually plus additional checks from UCHealth whenever the hospital system has a strong financial year.
Ongoing proceeds go to the Colorado Springs Health Foundation, which doles out the money as health care grants. Bennett said the establishment of the foundation is another crowning achievement of the city during his time on the council.
Much of Bennett’s work has stemmed from his affable nature. His first term coincided with that of Bach, the city’s first strong mayor. Often the mayor and council were at odds, but Bennett was steadfast.
“He had been one of the voices in that four years of a lot of dysfunction between the council and the mayor, and I think he had been an example of someone who kept his calm and tried to work with the mayor and the council,” Mayor John Suthers said. “He was kind of a bridge builder.”
Which is why Suthers said he asked Bennett to run for a second term. In 2015, Suthers was running to replace Bach and said he needed a stabilizing voice on the council.
Suthers won his first term that year and Bennett won his second.
In those first two years voters approved 2C, a 0.62 percent sales tax to fund road repairs throughout the city, and Suthers successfully negotiated an intergovernmental agreement with Pueblo County for the Southern Delivery System water delivery project.
“Merv’s leadership had a lot to do with that,” Suthers said.
During Bennett’s last council meeting Tuesday afternoon, the group passed a resolution of appreciation for his service to the city, which includes stints as president and president pro tem of the council as well as chair of the Colorado Springs Utilities Board of Directors.
Each council member spoke fondly of their parting colleague. The words most often repeated were “friend” and “mentor.”
Councilwoman Yolanda Avila praised Bennett for his work with the YMCA, specifically his leadership in building the Southeast Armed Services YMCA at 2190 Jet Wing Drive, on the city’s southeast side.
And Council President Pro Tem Jill Gaebler noted that she admired Bennett’s ability to tell “folksy stories in a way, at that perfect moment that has always eased tensions, found common ground and provided humor to very tense situations… We’ve all heard the stories 20 times now… and you always told them at the right moment.”
Outside City Hall, Bennett said he and his wife are preparing for their 50th anniversary and plan to spend more time with their three married daughters and five grandchildren.
Bennett said he also plans to fish and duck hunt with his dog.
“I don’t miss very often, but if we’re out hunting and I miss, she looks at me and gives me the stink eye,” Bennett said.
“It’s like she’s saying ‘What’s the matter with you? You’re not holding up your end of the bargain here.’”