After a search of nearly 10 months, the Colorado Springs Utilities board unanimously voted Sept. 17 to offer the CEO contract to Aram Benyamin.
Benyamin has 38 years of public utilities experience. He joined CSU in May 2015 and currently serves as general manager of the CSU Energy Supply Department.
“We’re ready to go forward with his kinds of ideas,” said Tom Strand, chairman of the Utilities board. “The public, ratepayers and the business community really are looking for some new direction in terms of business development, in terms of how Utilities reacts to opportunities to help businesses and employment in our community.”
Board member Richard Skorman said he liked Benyamin’s “energy, work ethic and ability to solve problems. I think that’s what we’re going to need. He’s going to be a worker CEO — somebody who’s going to roll up his sleeves.”
While all three finalists were strong candidates, board member Jill Gaebler said Benyamin’s comment that he wanted Utilities to better partner with the city clinched her vote. Other finalists included Mark Gabriel, administrator and chief executive officer of Western Area Power Administration and Eric Tharp, acting chief executive officer and chief energy services officer with Colorado Springs Utilities.
“I’m looking forward to this challenge,” Benyamin said after the meeting. “This is a great honor to me, a humbling assignment, because this city has rich history of Utilities being owned by the citizens. “I want to make sure the utility as a public agency feels part of the community, and all the plans that we have moving forward, that the utility plays a constructive role.”
Benyamin said he was pleased that the selection process was transparent and open, including several public meetings at which the candidates were queried.
“I want to make sure everybody’s included in the conversation,” he said.
Former Utilities CEO Jerry Forte retired in May after almost 17 years as the utility’s chief.
“Jerry Forte left a legacy at Utilities; during his time a lot of good things have happened,” Benyamin said. “Forte provided the foundation for this utility to move to the next level. Times are changing; utilities are changing. I want to make sure the utility is ready for that change and that the organization is prepared for taking that next step.”
During his tenure, Forte presided over installation of the $825 million Southern Delivery System, which was seen as one of his biggest accomplishments. But he also had disagreements with some members of the board over budget and had to deal with controversies over the decommissioning of the Drake Power Plant and installation of the $170 million Neumann Systems Group scrubber system designed to remove pollutants, as well as leadership and trust issues.
Prior to joining CSU, Benyamin served as senior assistant general manager at the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power’s power system the nation’s largest municipal utility, where he was responsible for 4,000 employees, an annual budget of $3.9 billion and 4 million customers.
Benyamin was chosen from three finalists who were selected from 129 applicants. Contract details are being worked out; Strand said the contract likely would be offered to Benyamin on Friday.
The members of the Colorado Springs City Council serve as the Utilities board.