Before a jovial, standing-room-only crowd, Colorado Springs Utilities’ new chief executive officer, Aram Benyamin, took his oath of office Tuesday and doubled his salary to $480,000.
The Utilities board approved Benyamin’s appointment and employment agreement, including his salary. Then the new CEO stood with a wide smile and shook hands with everyone on the dais. In the oath led by Mayor John Suthers, Benyamin promised to uphold the U.S. and Colorado constitutions and state and city laws.
“The future is bright,” he said. “I’m just humbled to take this opportunity to serve the city, and I will do my best to support the city’s vision.”
The Utilities board unanimously approved Benyamin’s promotion last month. He had been general manager of Utilities’ Energy Supply Department, making $242,278 a year. He succeeds Jerry Forte, who stepped down in May after more than 12 years as CEO.
Benyamin beat out 128 other applicants, two of whom he competed against last month in a final round of interviews.
Despite the board’s unanimous approval of Benyamin for the job, one member opposed his contract.
Andy Pico said he wanted Benyamin’s new salary to match Forte’s pay at the end of his career, which was $447,200. It would have been more fiscally responsible to start the new CEO at a lower salary and increase his pay over time, Pico said.
But Melissa Kellione, head of human resources for Utilities, said Forte’s salary had not changed since the start of 2016.
Even Benyamin’s new salary sits below the market average of $519,000 for a similar position elsewhere, Kellione said.
Board Member Dave Geislinger said Benyamin’s salary reflects the city’s growth.
“We are no longer the small community that I understood Colorado Springs to be when I was growing up,” Geislinger said. “We are among the large cities and ... this is a visible position and this is a visible salary. It goes beyond the position, and it is reflective of who it is that we are becoming.”
Board Chairman Tom Strand agreed, saying the salary is a byproduct of “how we have grown and developed and where we are headed.”
Among his goals, Benyamin has said, he wants to ensure Utilities’ transparent, productive relationship with the city and keep an eye on renewable technologies, such as wind and solar, which are rapidly becoming more efficient and affordable.