One of the qualities that separated Paul Benson from a crowded and talented field of city council hopefuls was his understanding of big-picture issues, Council President Rich Gruber said.
“He hit every one of the important issues from my perspective,” Gruber said. “He came well prepared, and I have every confidence he will continue to be prepared.”
The council selected Benson as its newest member Friday night to fill a vacancy. Jens Jorgensen resigned last month to take a job in Fond du Lac.
Benson emerged as the top choice ahead of Lonnie Brigham, Jo Ann Koltyk and Andy Udell. All were tabbed as finalists Wednesday night during a meeting that trimmed the field from 10 candidates to four.
Benson is a Janesville native who moved away to attend law school at Arizona State. After living in the Phoenix area for 10 years, he and his wife returned to Janesville because they saw positive changes in an up-and-coming city, he said.
In his mind, some of Janesville’s biggest challenges extend beyond the city. These include state-imposed levy limits and disproportionate state shared revenue, dark-store lawsuits, and a recycling market hampered by China’s decision to ban imported recyclables.
Benson, a lawyer, hopes a bipartisan bill to end dark-store lawsuits will pass the state Legislature. As for making revisions to levy limits and the shared-revenue formula, he would lobby with peer cities such as Eau Claire and Appleton that also get shortchanged by the state, he said.
Closer to home, Benson said Janesville should explore improving its bicycle infrastructure. Benson has primarily used a bike instead of a car since 2011, he said.
All four candidates have served on city committees and have other community service. Before voting, the council encouraged whomever was not chosen to consider running for election next spring.
Brigham said Janesville has become his adopted home after leaving Chicago. In a much smaller city, he said he has found his calling as a community activist.
All five people who spoke during public comment supported Brigham. Those included two Rock County municipal officials, Milton Mayor Anissa Welch and Beloit City Council member Clinton Anderson.
Koltyk said it was important for the council to consider viewing issues from something other than an upper-middle-class perspective. She was excited about downtown redevelopment but worried that future attempts to revitalize the adjacent Fourth Ward could weaken the neighborhood’s sense of community.
Udell, a Janesville native, said he has been able to take a long view of how the city has changed. He wanted to strengthen relationships to extend ARISE momentum and be a cheerleader for Janesville.
In the first round of voting, Benson earned three votes and the others each received one. The council voted again because it was not a majority. Council member Sue Conley flipped her vote from Koltyk to Benson to finalize the choice.
All six council members voted unanimously to ratify Benson’s appointment. He will finish the remaining year of Jorgensen’s term.
Benson wasted no time in taking his first council action, making a motion to adjourn shortly after joining the dais.