Telluride retiring councilwoman waxing philosophical on election day

Telluride retiring councilwoman waxing philosophical on election day

[click “Play to hear Susan’s conversation with Andrea Benda]

11.1.2009 106
Andrea Benda (r) with friend and
council colleague, Lulu Hunt

Retiring Telluride councilwoman Andrea Benda spends a great deal of time wandering around a cemetery. She is not maudlin. She has nothing to bury, not even a hatchet, because she long ago she made peace with all her council colleagues. Telluride’s Lone Tree Cemetery is simply one of the stops on the town tours her company, Explore Telluride!, offers.

Andrea Benda holds a degree in Library Science from James Madison University. After graduation, she worked in the Chicago suburbs as a media specialist in elementary schools until she and her then husband Terry, now deceased, moved to Telluride and ran the Ore Station Lodge as an inn, handling everything from taking reservations to cleaning toilets. Not being afraid to get her hands dirty was probably good training for the Telluride Town Council.

Wherever Andrea Benda focuses her attention, good things happen. She worked for the Wilkinson Public Library for 13 years, the last five years as President of the Board of Trustees, when the town was voting on expansion. Today the Wilkinson Public Library is winning awards. Andrea was a founding board member and singer on the Telluride Choral Society, a board member of the Telluride Chamber Music Festival. She served as executive director of the Telluride Historical Museum, guiding the nonprofit through its renaissance.

After two terms, six years, on the Telluride Town Council, Andrea Benda is retiring. But she is not going quietly. Click the “play” button on Andrea’s podcast and listen to her talk about lessons learned in office. She ends with words for future town leaders to grow on.  

The following is Andrea Benda’s goodbye speech to the town on October 27, at the celebration of her Community Service Award at Rebekah Hall following a council meeting:

Mayor Fraser, council, staff, board, and commission members, and Telluride citizens:

Thank you to the people who elected me twice to serve on the Telluride Town Council.  Since we’re not a two-party system, I don’t know exactly who you are, so I’ve done my best for the whole of Telluride.  I deeply appreciate the trust you placed in my ability to serve and to lead the town.  I’ve done my best to work toward a Telluride where all people – from the newest newborn, like Belle McTigue, to the oldest elder–  are safe and healthy, and experience a sense of well-being. 

What a balancing act it has been!  I’m not so good at politics, finding them a fickle and shaky way to do business, but I’ve learned a lot about governing and leadership in a small municipality. My method is simple:  Do the homework, and read and gather facts from commissions and staff and citizens. Weigh all the aspects of an issue.  Decide – using a perspective gained through research – what is the best for the most people in the whole town. 

Town Council is charged with adopting the budget, maintaining the services, and infrastructure citizens expect, and creating policies that insure a safe, healthy, thriving Telluride.  We set goals along these lines every year.  But it’s the STAFF that implements these goals on a daily basis. We were recently talking about the work week on the Personnel Advisory board and decided that every hour of the day or night at least one town staff member is at work. The staff during my six years on council has been awesome: They are the ones who keep our water pure, our rivers and parks and trails in splendid shape, our streets clean and safe, our incredible historical environment looking great, the records of our story neat and accessible, the numbers crunched, and so much more. There’s always room for improvement, but the successes outweigh the disappointments.  It’s been a true pleasure to have worked alongside these professionals. I cannot thank them enough.

In six years, I’ve had the pleasure of working with three different councils, under two awesome mayors, with countless dedicated volunteers on town boards and commissions, and an incredible staff, and I know we’ve accomplished much.

I’d like to say a few words about some of the events that occurred during my tenure.  I’m not the kind to let regrets haunt me, so I’ve tucked some of the results I wish we’d had inside the acheivements.

My list of Town Council’s greatest successes (in no particular order) in my six years include:

• Acquiring the Valley Floor and adopting the Conservation Easement and Management Plan and acquiring the Kentucky Placer and other Bear Creek parcels for Open Space.  I wish, however, we had acquired the extra acreage for a school and affordable housing and had gotten a good start on the river restoration on the Valley Floor per the settlement agreement.

• Hiring Manager Frank Bell and Town Attorney Kevin Geiger. Because the town manager hires other town employees, the Town Council can’t take credit for some of the other great hires over the last six years.

• Adopting a New Master Plan, the first in almost 20 years

• Keeping at least 60 working families here in town with new subsidized housing.  I wish we had found a way to insure even more day care and affordable housing to keep more working families here.

• Creating and funding Marketing Telluride, Inc., the Tourism Board   

• Developing and funding The New Community Coalition

• Restoring much of the San Miguel River and maintaining Cornet Creek flood mitigation

• Planning and funding a new water treatment plant.  Speaking of critical infrastructure, I wish we had finished repairing the spur, the bike path, sidewalks and intersections

• Proactively and aggressively addressing climate change

• Working through the Citizens Advisory Board and the Marshal’s Department to  create a great bike rodeo for hundreds of kids and collaborating with the Telluride Foundation in establishing One Telluride, dedicated to integrating cultures.

• Creating a Telluride Business Task Force and funding the resulting Telluride Business Alliance with a $75,000 town grant.  I wish the Business Task Force had worked longer with the Telluride Business Alliance. I think a stronger transition might have kept the Business Alliance alive. My best wishes are still for an effective Business Alliance and a vibrant commercial core.

• Collaborating and cooperating with our neighbors:  San Miguel County, Mountain Village, the schools, Telski, and statewide organizations. Sometimes our differences are profound, but I was always taught that anyone over the age of three understands the meaning of the word COMPROMISE.  Communicating and working together with these groups has been a critical improvement.

This is such a partial list.  There is no way I can name every good thing. There’s so much that happens smoothly and well in our town.

Telluride used to call itself “The Town Without a Bellyache.” Sometimes over the past six years, however, I’ve wondered if we were developing a stomach ulcer. I’ve long followed a prescription for when I get a Telluride bellyache. I’d like to share it:

Step outside.  Look around.  Reach out to a neighbor or a stranger, or a visitor.  Maybe, like me, you will be so filled with the awe of living in this bit of paradise that the little voices – the nagging, snarky, blaming, mean, whiney, punitive, petty, paranoid voices – will be stilled.  Maybe you’ll be inspired to redirect your energies to positive, constructive efforts.  Maybe that way we can once again be called “The Town Without a Bellyache.”

A few years ago members of all the local churches signed and sent to council members a note.  I’ve always kept it here in my council desk and read it quite frequently.  I think you’ll see why.  In part it says:
 “We want you to know how much your labors in this community are appreciated, the visible hours as well as all of your unseen efforts.  Supporters from all the churches in town are praying for your success, that you may have wisdom in all your decisions, be guided with clarity and unity for the greatest good of all, and be refreshed and renewed as you labor here, experiencing growth and fulfillment as well.” 

I know that prayer has come true for me and I thank them for its lasting impact.

I’d like to end with a favorite quote from Dag Hammarskjöld:  “For all that has been, thanks.  For all that shall be, YES!”

Thank you for the privilege of serving you and Telluride.”

No Comments

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.