By Kevin McCallum
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Think sitting through an entire Santa Rosa City Council meeting is a chore?
Trying doing it for a decade.
That’s how long Jane Bender served before she stepped down this week amid a shower of praise from fellow council members, city staff and members of the community.
“Santa Rosa is a better place because of your leadership,” Jack Thomas, president of the local firefighters union told Bender Tuesday night.
Bender was the fourth-highest vote getter in the 2000 election behind incumbents Sharon Wright, Noreen Evans and Mike Martini. The political newcomer was backed by pro-business interests but also defied pigeonholing because of her strong environmental background.
She had also been co-director of Sonoma County ReLeaf, a non-profit that advocated for the planting of trees.
Mayor Susan Gorin highlighted Bender’s environmental record Tuesday, noting that she pushed the council to adopt the first greenhouse gas emission regulations and was the first councilmember to buy a hybrid vehicle.
She noted the Bender and Jacobi, the council’s most staunch environmentalist who lost her reelection bid, have a lot in common.
“While your different constituencies may not want to admit it, the parallels between the two of you and your service to our community is unmistakable and long-lasting,” Gorin said.
Bender served as mayor from 2004 to 2006, a period she enjoyed, but not because she felt it carried any power. She viewed the role of mayor as largely administrative.
“I was very clear that I had no more power than any other council member,” Bender said.
Politically she considers herself to have been a moderate on the council, striving to strike a balance between bwtween what she described as the development forces a community needs to grow and the environmentalists’ recognition that those growth patterns must change.
For that reason she said has been a strong proponent of city-centered, transit-oriented growth, supporting higher-density housing, particularly downtown.
Her work helping establish Santa Rosa’s gang prevention task force is one of her proudest accomplishments, she said.
Community Action Partnership executive director Oscar Chavez noted that Bender got personally involved in the lives of many youth who participated in the important program to reduce gang membership.
“While you may not be on the council anymore, all those things that you championed will continue,” Chavez said.
Bender had planned to step down in 2008 after two four-year terms, but when her friend and political ally Bob Blanchard told her his cancer had returned, she told him she would volunteer to serve out the remainder of his term.
“It was gift to him,” she said.
Blanchard died in June of 2008.
The past two years on the council have been tough, she said. The city’s financial crisis has been draining, and the leadership styles of her colleagues have been very different from her own.
She sees the council’s role as setting policy and then letting staff do its job until there’s reason to think they’re not, she said.
“It’s not our job to get in and manage departments,” she said.
She thinks the council will begin working better together soon because the financial challenges facing the city are so dire that they don’t have a choice.
Bender, 70, now looks forward to spending more time traveling with her husband, Jerry, and watching Tuesday night television shows like Glee and Dancing with the Stars.
She also plans to remain involved in issues she believes in, including Habitat for Humanity, serving on the board of the Climate Protection Campaign and pushing for the reunification of Old Courthouse Square downtown, she said.
The outpouring of praise she received Tuesday was gratifying, she said.
“I was moved and appreciative and grateful that I was able to serve the community for 10 years and that it had an effect,” she said.