Scott Hente can see the likely end of his political career looming closer by the day. Come April, the term-limited City Council president will wrap up his 10-year tenure as a Colorado Springs elected official.
He's ready to devote more time to his home-building business and his wife Lyn (probably not in that order). He also looks forward to paying more attention to Air Force football and basketball, being a 1975 AFA graduate and a knowledgeable fan.
So he's beginning to reflect, and why not? Hente, now 59, has faced everything from the U.S. Olympic Committee retention deal and the Memorial Hospital lease to his own battle with prostate cancer, the recession that forced severe city budget cuts, and the nightmare of nearly losing his Mountain Shadows home in the Waldo Canyon Fire.
Still, Hente's not quite ready for post-mortems. Not with so much still on the agenda. As we spoke for this column, Hente had no idea what would happen Tuesday, with Council members deciding on possible ballot issues such as increasing Council pay, and, as he and Council President Pro-Tem Jan Martin have suggested, proposing that Utilities be governed by an independent elected board, not Council.
For the record, Hente likes the idea of paying Council members a higher salary, which he feels would improve the field of potential candidates who can't afford to even consider running now.
But his final focus will be the fate of Martin Drake Power Plant. He'll ride into the sunset convinced Drake is worth saving, and not just for a few more years. He's also certain the NeuStream coal-scrubbing technology is worth the investment and shouldn't be abandoned.
Asked if Drake would be gone in a decade, Hente brusquely says, "Ten years? I'm not sure I'd agree with that. Look at the good things: It's paid-for, the low cost to produce energy, and the money we put into it for NeuStream enhances it for years into the future. I don't see it as a plant that needs to go away anytime soon.
"I understand what drives Utilities' costs, and I don't want those costs to go up artificially because we get rid of a plant that's working very well. If you convinced me Drake was a heavy polluter and causing detrimental effects to the health of the community, that would be a different story."
Hente questions study results unveiled last week by the Sierra Club, which indicate that Drake's coal emissions exceed federal limits and may have reached alarming levels along the mountainsides, from the Broadmoor to Manitou Springs, Garden of the Gods and northward.
"I'm not overly impressed with the methodology used in that study," Hente says. "I have a master's in computer science, and my thesis was on modeling and simulation. I get that stuff. But every model is only as good as the data that goes into it, and I'm not sure they used good data. Computer models are like statistics — you can rig them to give you the answer you want. That study also ignores the fact that Drake conforms to standards today."
Utilities aside, Hente doesn't mind offering advice for prospective new Council members who might view the time requirement as minimal.
"Nobody really understands the time issue until you're there," he says. "To this day I can't believe how much time it takes. It's become almost a full-time job, even with the strong mayor. In many ways, the time commitment is greater with this form of government. For example, we have the mayor's counsel meetings now, and we have to work with city staff in such different ways. I realize my time went up as Council president, so maybe I'm a little biased. But I think it's been that way for everybody."
Hente knows that his Council days are numbered, but he's not counting them. He's especially proud of what Utilities has achieved.
"I don't think the community has been served poorly by Council," he says. "We have the lowest rates, high reliability, and we've won all those J.D. Power awards for service. Don't come to me saying there are issues and problems with Utilities. I'm not seeing it."
In a few months, though, he won't be seeing it from the inside anymore. And it's safe to say that when Scott Hente leaves, nobody soon will be able to replace all that experience. And perspective.
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