(Montrose Mayor Barbara Bynum leads a community tour of the La Raza Park Neighborhood Oct 7, 2020)
Bynum’s Tenure As Mayor During A Time of Test for Montrose
Story and Pictures by William Woody
City of Montrose Communications
Montrose, CO — Looking back over the past year, Barbara Bynum is thinking about those who lost their jobs, homes, and lives as the invisible grip of the COVID-19 virus tightened around Montrose. They will remain in her thoughts long after her tenure as mayor ends April 6. City history will record Bynum's entire term as mayor during the worst time of the pandemic.
Bynum’s tenure began in lockdown, inaugurated as mayor on April 21, 2020. She swore an oath to serve Montrose during a City Council meeting held virtually on the Zoom platform.
At that time, everything about conducting City Council business online was new. Bynum began working with local public health officials to decipher federal and state COVID policies in order to inform residents and reduce infections. This came on the heels of Russell Stover announcing it was closing its 40-year association with the city and shutting its factory and outlet store. It meant the elimination of hundreds of jobs.
Then came the facemask order from the governor, recommended adherence to six feet of social distancing, and the ongoing application of disinfectants, virus testing, and quarantines. The job of mayor was difficult, Bynum reflects.
(Mayor Bynum, fourth from right, blue shirt, celebrates the opening of the city's Connect Trail in Oct. 2020)
“The pandemic changed what it looks like to serve as mayor. It stripped away the easier parts of the job — events like parades, festivals, and ribbon-cuttings,” Bynum said. “Instead, I spent a lot of time in online meetings learning about COVID and how I could best help my community survive the pandemic.”
Bynum said she immersed herself in COVID research while exploring loan and grant opportunities to help local businesses. To aid public health, the City Council decided the city would not shut off water to anyone behind on their payments as a way to ensure basic sanitary infrastructure to its residents. Bynum also made sure to respond to any and all messages she received from the community.
“The stories of families struggling amidst job cutbacks, or small businesses working to stay viable, weighed heavy on my mind as I worked to help our community navigate these challenges,” Bynum said.
Shortly after being sworn in as mayor, Bynum was appointed to a COVID task force created by Gov. Jared Polis’s administration. Its mission was to work alongside state and local agencies to address the impacts of the pandemic. The duties of the task force were to illustrate what was happening “on the ground” in Colorado cities while advising the governor’s office on policy. This enabled Bynum to work with community leaders throughout the state.
“I used the opportunity to share how COVID looked and felt in our smaller, rural community,” Bynum said. “I think sometimes leaders in Denver forget that a lot of Colorado looks and feels very different than the Front Range. I believe that all voices need to be part of the discussion and I was glad I could represent the people of Montrose.”
As the pandemic went on, the loss of a personal connection with friends, neighbors, and residents was the hardest part of her service, according to Bynum. Of the 47 regularly scheduled City Council meetings over the past 12 months, just 15 have been held in the council chambers. During COVID, meetings and contact with constituents through Zoom became the norm.
(Mayor Bynum speaks during a City Council meeting held remotely on March 24, 2020)
“It was definitely different. I think it presented some opportunities but also challenges. It made it easier for citizens to participate in our meetings — whether they were applying for a liquor license or answering details about a contract award,” Bynum said. “However, I really missed seeing my fellow councilors and city staff in person. We had less opportunity to ask each other about kids and grandkids, weekend plans, and such. These informal conversations can spark new ideas and solutions for issues on which we are working.”
Bynum said she is looking forward to resuming a more normal post-pandemic way of life as she continues as a member of the council. “I will have more opportunities to see and hear directly from people about their concerns and ideas for Montrose.”
Bynum is the second mayor in the history of Montrose to lead the city through a pandemic. The first was D.R. Grant, who served as mayor from 1918-1921 during the Spanish Flu pandemic. Newspaper accounts from that time period describe a deep unease with the flu throughout the Western Slope. This pandemic from 100 years ago would go on to kill an estimated 675,000 Americans nationally.
Anyone found without a face covering during the 1918 pandemic would have been subject to potential monetary fines or jail time, according to regional newspaper accounts.
None of those measures were enacted during COVID. Bynum said enforcement was never the prime directive of the city. Rather, encouraging residents to follow local and state health warnings and advisories. The city’s mission, according to Bynum, was to act as a community partner and pass-through entity for public health information from Montrose County and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
(Mayor Bynum speaks to a group of residents in 2020.)
“I joined Montrose County meetings to learn about public health and how the city could best support the county in that area. I dissected state rules and directives in order to help my constituents navigate all the COVID changes. There was a lot more work, and it was all very serious,” Bynum said.
While the pandemic was always present in people’s minds, the work of the city government still had to continue as normal. One important task facing the council during the past couple of years was making tangible improvements to the La Raza Park neighborhood. On a warm, fall evening last October, Bynum, along with councilors Roy Anderson, Dave Frank, and Doug Glaspell, joined city staff to meet with residents in the La Raza Park neighborhood during a community walk-through.
The group walked from one end of the neighborhood to the other, discussing the safety of school children walking to school, improvements to La Raza Park, and building new sidewalks.
(Mayor Bynum reviews plans for improvements to the La Raza Park neighborhood during a community tour Oct. 7, 2020)
“Some of my favorite accomplishments are the times when I was able to help individuals navigate local government. Helping people find solutions to their problems is why local government is so rewarding; you have the ability to make someone’s day better in a tangible way,” Bynum said.
Bynum said maintaining an open line of communication between the council and public is critical to the overall effectiveness of the City Council. This means making time each day to respond and answer questions. This effort to connect with residents is “one of the jobs of the mayor,” Bynum said.
“Over the past year I responded to a lot of citizen inquiries, complaints, and compliments,” Bynum said. “I work hard to research the questions and respond, sometimes asking a city department manager to join with additional detailed information. Sometimes, citizens just need an opportunity to complain and be heard. To know that I listened to them.”
Maintaining a strong social media presence has helped keep Bynum in contact with people who might not reach out to an elected official through traditional means of communication. Most of the time, Bynum said, just being ready and making time to be available has required the most effort on her part.
(Mayor Bynum inspects artifacts pulled from a 50-year-old time capsule on the city campus in 2020.)
“I also really enjoy talking to people when they call me. Often they ask if they’ve reached the mayor’s office when it’s just me and my cell phone and I’m doing the dishes at home,” Bynum said. “Many people don’t realize that our city councilors are not city employees and we do not have offices in City Hall. These phone conversations are fun because we can talk about different things. I am usually able to help them with their concern, either by pointing them in the right direction or by making a phone call on their behalf. These one-on-one interactions are some of the most rewarding aspects of serving on City Council.”
Bynum leaves her post as the ninth woman to serve as mayor; Sue Merrett was the first in 1981. Bynum is clear she does not want to be the last woman to serve as mayor.
“Mayor Bynum is a very professional and competent community leader,” City Manager Bill Bell said. “I have truly enjoyed working with her over the past year. This has been a difficult time for our community and we are so proud of Barbara's commitment to the people of Montrose and to the wonderful group of employees we have here at the city. The relationship between staff and our City Council has stayed healthy and productive throughout the pandemic, and for that, we are truly grateful.”
Bynum said there are so many different opportunities in Montrose for people to get involved and give back. Those opportunities involve volunteering in schools, churches, or other community service organizations. Bynum said there is always work to be done to help people in times of need.
“Montrose is full of generous folks who give their time and talents in numerous different ways. Being an elected official is an interesting volunteer job because you have to want to work hard, but you also have to prove you’re the right person for the job and earn the position,” Bynum said. “It helps to have thick skin because you aren’t going to make everyone happy all the time. I would advise anyone who wants to help his or her community to jump in and do it! It’s very rewarding work.”
(Mayor Bynum, left, speaks during the opening of a large community mural under the West Main Street bridge fall 2020.)
During her tenure as mayor, Bynum said the city has continued to invest in public safety, water and sewer infrastructure, and major street improvements. “All of which are the backbone of city government,” according to Bynum.
“We have also been able to work towards more available and affordable housing, and more child care options — both of which are keys to a strong economy in Montrose,” Bynum said. “There is still a lot of work to be done, but I’m confident that our current council and city management are working hard on the issues.”
The city's five council members select a new mayor and mayor pro tem from within the council each April. The new mayor will be appointed by the City Council at the April 6 regular council meeting, the first to be held in council chambers since November 3, 2020, meeting due to the virus and the restrictions that came with it.
“Although the last 12 months looked unusual, I enjoyed my time as mayor. It has been a lot of work and required a lot of time, but it’s fulfilling for me to know I have contributed to my community. My parents were both very active in community service and civic leadership. I grew up with the idea that giving back to one’s community was an expectation,” Bynum said. “I’d like to think that my efforts over the last year have made a difference and that Montrose will continue to offer its residents a quality of life that makes this a special place to live, work, play, raise a family, or retire.”
Women who have served as Mayor of Montrose:
Sue Merrett: 1981, 1984
Tricia Dickinson: 1989, 1991, 1994
Peggy Carey: 1992
Susie Broome: 1997
Noelle Hagan: 2002, 2006
Erica Lewis Kennedy: 2005, 2008
Kathy Ellis: 2010, 2011
Judy Ann Files: 2013, 2017
Barbara Bynum: 2020
All City Council meetings are recorded and made available online via the city’s website and cable channels 191 for Charter subscribers and 970 for Elevate subscribers. Replays of council meetings are also broadcast at 6 p.m. on the same channels on days that the council is not in session.
In addition, each regular meeting is archived on the City of Montrose’s YouTube channel.
Residents can watch all regular City Council meetings and work sessions live through the city’s website at CityOfMontrose.org/Video.
For more city news visit CityOfMontrose.org.