Steamboat Springs City Council candidate Kevin Bennett provided what was perhaps the most heated moment of an emotional Tuesday night meeting between the Steamboat Springs City Council and the residents of West Acres Mobile Home Park.
The residents are protesting the planned construction of the New Victory Highway through greenbelts associated with the mobile home park. During public comment, Bennett spoke in support of the residents, decried the use of public money to construct the road and also took the opportunity to level criticisms at Councilwoman Cari Hermacinski, his opponent in the November election. Among other comments, Bennett said Hermacinski shared responsibility for the road's current alignment and accused her of holding inappropriate private meetings with the developers of Steamboat 700.
Hermacinski shot back in defense after Bennett left the podium, and City Council President Loui Antonucci requested that election issues not be allowed to cloud the serious discussion.
Bennett's behavior drew criticism from Hermacinski and other council members.
"I was disappointed that I thought he was turning it into a campaign platform," Hermacinski said. "We should confine that debate to the forums scheduled for that and not when we're conducting the business of the community."
Antonucci, who has served a combined 12 years on City Council, said Wednesday that he had never seen anything like Tuesday's remarks from Bennett at City Council meetings during election season.
"I thought it was kind of inappropriate," Antonucci said. "People don't usually come to City Council as an election forum."
On Wednesday, Bennett explained himself and expressed some regret.
"I probably overreacted," Bennett said. "My comments probably were not on subject and probably should have been held to another forum."
Councilman Jon Quinn - who has publicly endorsed Hermacinski in the race for a four-year, District 1 seat in this year's City Council election - leveled some of the heaviest criticisms against Bennett. Quinn said he thought the former council president was being hypocritical. A Bennett-led council moved the proposed alignment for New Victory Highway to its current location a decade ago.
Bennett said Wednesday it was precisely this point that brought him to the podium. Upon arriving at the meeting, Bennett said West Acres residents told him that council members were trying to deny responsibility for the New Victory Highway problem by blaming it on him and previous councils. Bennett said he felt the need to note that the plan stayed in place after ample opportunities for review and change, most notably during the city's 2006 update of the West of Steamboat Springs Area Plan. The update was undertaken during Hermacinski's tenure on the city Planning Commission, but Hermacinski said she missed the final vote on it because she was in a Denver hospital with her infant daughter.
"I took the opportunity to speak to all the West Acres residents in the room to set the record straight," Bennett said. "I felt it necessary to."
On Wednesday, Bennett also shot back at Quinn. Bennett claimed the council member approached him after the meeting and launched into a profane tirade.
"Having chaired over 300 public meetings, I've never yelled obscenities at a speaker after the meeting," Bennett said.
Quinn acknowledged the confrontation after the meeting, but denied using the words Bennett attributed to him.
"That's a bit of a stretch, but I told him I thought it was inappropriate," Quinn said. "What I saw last night was Kevin saw a political opportunity. I don't like playing that way, and I think it's inappropriate."