Outgoing Glenwood Springs city councilors reflect on tumultuous 8 years
Individual legacies might be hard to pinpoint for a trio of outgoing Glenwood Springs City Council members who leave office April 20 after eight years serving together. But the collective legacy that came to define the tenure of Stephen Bershenyi, Leo McKinney and Matt Steckler is hard to miss.
It was a period of time that saw the aftermath of a national recession, resulting in difficult city budget cuts. That was followed by a significant investment in downtown Glenwood with the construction of a much-needed parking garage, a deal that secured the long-term future of a central library facility, and the beginnings of a major redevelopment effort that will eventually transform the Sixth and Seventh street corridors.
Along the way, the three helped usher in the era of legalized marijuana in Colorado, crafting rules to make it a legitimate and lucrative business, while working to protect the town from negative impacts. A transition to a new city manager and city attorney was not without some contention, but the eventual outcome was a positive one, they also agree.
Oh, and something about a bridge?
“I remember the day the ribbon was cut for this existing bridge,” Bershenyi, a Glenwood Springs native who had a way of bringing a historical perspective to the council table during his two terms in the at-large seat, said in regards to the Colorado Department of Transportation’s replacement of the 64-year-old Grand Avenue bridge.
“To think that I would have a hand in replacing something that will be a signatory entrance into the city I love, that’s been really a pleasant experience,” Bershenyi said. “We as a council did have the ability, finally, to craft a working relationship with CDOT, which allowed us to have some control over the final product. I think it is going to be spectacular.”
McKinney, who has represented the south Glenwood area as the Ward 5 councilor, observed that it took a lot of political will on the part of City Council to get to that point.
“We were able to unite as a council and do our part, even with the understanding that it wasn’t a popular decision with everybody in town and knowing that it was going to be painful,” he said.
Steckler, the outgoing Ward 2 representative, admits he’s glad he won’t be around to be a “lightning rod” when the bridge detour hits later this year, but he said he’s comfortable that the city is in good hands to take advantage of the opportunities that the new bridge will provide.
“I’m very proud of what we’ve done here,” Steckler said. “I’ve learned a lot about the community, and I’ve learned a lot about myself and my values and how to apply those values to concrete decision-making. We’ve all evolved over the last eight years as decision-makers and thinkers.”
Going forward, Steckler urged newly elected council members Shelley Kaup, Jonathan Godes and Rick Voorhees, and the four sitting councilors to continue to be good stewards of the taxpayers’ money.
“It’s easy to lose sight sometimes of exactly whose money it is we’re spending and how much some of these things cost,” he said. “I think we are good at leveraging tax dollars with other entities to get things done in our community, and we should continue to try to do that.”
The three outgoing councilors also expressed regret in not being able to get some of the big-ticket projects accomplished, or at least further along in the planning process. Those include rebuilding south Midland Avenue, keeping up with city street maintenance in general and moving the South Bridge project closer to reality.
At the same time, “We have a new parking structure, we were able to contribute very materially to keeping the library downtown, we had a hand in the start of the revitalization of Seventh Street … we built the 14th Street pedestrian crossing … we’re nearing the stage of replacing the 27th Street bridge and the reconstruction of Midland … and we’re working toward getting the permanent Eighth Street [connection],” Bershenyi said, rattling off a long list of accomplishments.
“I do have mixed feelings that I won’t be around to see the completion of some of the things that we have set in motion,” he said. “But I’m looking forward to watching it come to fruition from the other side of desk.”
McKinney and Steckler had the opportunity to serve two years each in the appointed mayor’s chair, Steckler from 2011-13 and McKinney from 2013-15.
“That was a huge honor,” McKinney said. “It also afforded me the opportunity to meet some people I probably never would have met.”
McKinney counts as one accomplishment during his tenure as mayor helping to convince City Council to oppose oil and gas leasing in the Thompson Divide area southwest of Glenwood. He also presided over the city’s initial work to write regulations around the new marijuana industry, which became legal with state voter approval of Amendment 64 in 2012. McKinney said some of his out-of-state friends ribbed him over it, calling him the “mayor-juana.”
“Looking back, that will definitely be a legacy of this particular group of people, because we were there when it all began,” McKinney said. “Hopefully the fears have subsided, and I think we are seeing some of the benefits of it.”
Steckler recalls that one of the goals during his two years as mayor was to improve the city’s relationship with Garfield County and the county commissioners.
“That relationship has improved dramatically on a lot of levels,” Steckler said. “I enjoyed being mayor. It was a lot of work, and at a time that was very busy for me personally. But I’m sure glad I did it, and I liked being involved in leading the process.”
Bershenyi, Steckler and McKinney all three said they hope to stay involved in city matters in some way.
Already, Bershenyi has signed on to be the city’s representative for the Raise the River project, which seeks to gather support among upstream Colorado River water users to re-establish a year-round river flow to the Colorado delta in Mexico.
McKinney said he would like to continuing working with the city’s River Commission, if possible. “And I may not be done with public office,” McKinney said. “There may be something down the road that I’d be brave enough to throw my hat into.”