Eric Benson

Enid City Manager, Eric Benson (photo provided by City of Enid)

Eric Benson has been called virtually every name in the book at some point or another in his time here in Enid.  Most of those names could not be repeated in this forum.  Others, like Hitler, Stalin, and titles such as “dictator” are just a sampling of the ones we can.  Are they fair?  While everyone is entitled to an opinion, I’ve often wondered how many of those people have actually discussed things with Mr. Benson.  Shook his hand and introduced themselves.  I also wondered if anyone had ever asked him if he preferred Pepsi over Coke?  In a strikingly candid and often absurd interview (how could a Route 60 interview not include absurdity?), I sat down with Mr. Benson to discuss important matters and tossed in a few fun questions for the hell of it.

 

In all fairness, there are many times in the interview when there was laughter that I do not indicate.  In addition, some portions of the interview have been edited to be as concise as possible.  But rest assured, these are the words of Mr. Benson and me as they were spoken the day we talked.  Route 60 co-editor Tammy Wilson contributed to this article.  Thanks Tammy.

 


 

Route 60 Sentinel: It’s nice to finally meet you.

Eric Benson: It’s nice to finally meet you, too.

Route 60 Sentinel: I understand some of the employees here have a picture of you hanging on their wall that we recently published.

Eric Benson: (Laughs) Yes, that’s been quite popular around here!  It showed up all over this building by the way.  (More laughter)

Route 60 Sentinel: Well, it’s funny I started off with that, because I have a gift for you from the Route 60 Sentinel.  We’ve had quite a bit of fun at your expense and thought you might like this. (Presents him with a framed poster of “The Minionaire.”)

Eric Benson: Well, that’s very nice of you… (Trails off into hearty laughter when he sees the gift)

Route 60 Sentinel: (Over Mr. Benson’s laughter) It’s a new movie coming out called “The Minionaire.”  It gets funnier as you read the poster.  It has a great cast.

Eric Benson: Oh my goodness, that is so funny. (Still laughing)

Eric Benson: (Reads a line on the poster):  “I’m really good in it!”  (Uproarious laughter)

Route 60 Sentinel: I understood you’d really like that line.

Eric Benson: I’m going to hang this right in here.

Route 60 Sentinel: Really?

Eric Benson: Right in here, buddy.  I’ve got something for you, too.  (Opens drawer and pulls out a large coin).  There’s only a couple hundred of these made.  Not everybody gets them and I pay for them.  That means you get a free beer at any bar in Enid.

Route 60 Sentinel: Really?

Eric Benson: Yeah, as long as I’m in the bar.

Route 60 Sentinel: Thank you very much! (Laughs)

Eric Benson: You’re welcome!


 

Route 60 Sentinel: OK.  Let’s start off with something from your history.  Do you miss flying the F-14?

Eric Benson: Oh, I enjoyed it, yeah.  But I tempted fate long enough.  It was great fun to fly, but more importantly I got the chance to hang around with some of the most principled and dedicated men on the planet.  That was the real fun for me.  Flying at super-sonic speeds was kind of icing on the cake.


 

Route 60 Sentinel: What kind of relationship do you have personally with Vance Air Force Base?

Eric Benson: I have a deep appreciation for what they do and have a tremendous respect for them individually.  Vance is one of the sacred cows in the community.   Perhaps a little too sacred on occasion?  All things need a balance.  All things need to be viewed in a fair status.  Sometimes, I think we can get a bit more eager than we need to be, but it’s a treasure that we have to keep and we have to protect it.

Route 60 Sentinel: But we have more than one asset is what you trying to convey here?

Eric Benson: Yes, we do.  I have commanded a base that was larger than Enid.  So, I’ve been on the other side of the fence.  I know how both games are played.  I know how you can take advantage of a community.  And the Air Force certainly enjoys Enid, Oklahoma.  It’s a very profitable, mutual arrangement.  Please don’t take from this that I’m skeptical, I’m not.

Route 60 Sentinel: Do you have the kind of relationship as an Enid dignitary……

Eric Benson: (Interrupts) Enid dignitary.  Has sort of a thunderous impact doesn’t it?

Route 60 Sentinel: Yes, it does.  But I like cult leader more myself.  (Laughs)

Eric Benson: You know, I really embrace it.  (Both laugh)

Route 60 Sentinel: Do you have the kind of relationship as an Enid dignitary, could you go out and say, “Hey, I miss riding in the T-38, could I get a ride along”?”

Eric Benson: Well, since I have 400 hours in a T-38 it really wouldn’t appeal to me.  But if I wanted to be a real jackass I could probably do it.  But I also know how that’s received out there.  I don’t know if I’d want to ask that question because I don’t know if I’d want to know the answer.

Route 60 Sentinel: What about for a fledgling young news blogger (hint, hint)?

Eric Benson: They’d probably say no.  And it would diminish me in their eyes.  It wouldn’t accomplish anything.

Route 60 Sentinel: Nuts….


 

Route 60 Sentinel: Coke or Pepsi?

Eric Benson: Dr. Pepper.

Route 60 Sentinel: Yes!  Perfect.


 

Route 60 Sentinel: What’s your favorite spectator sport?

Eric Benson: I don’t know that I really have one.  I used to be involved in the largest spectator event (air shows).  I can watch football.  But I’m not a big fan of anything really.


 

Route 60 Sentinel: Pretend you’re on a City of Enid version of TV’s “Survivor”.  Who would you form an alliance with?

Eric Benson:  There’s a gentleman named Pat Farrell here in town.  He used to be a pharmacist.  He’s the kind of guy you can always count on.  Always selfless.  Enormously happy.  Perfect ally.


 

Route 60 Sentinel: Can you speed and get away with it?  Enid Police Department

Eric Benson: No, I tried.  Didn’t work.  They gave me 144 reasons why I couldn’t get away with it.

Route 60 Sentinel: That says a lot about our boys in blue.

Eric Benson: I would expect no less.


 

Route 60 Sentinel: What’s your favorite restaurant?

Eric Benson: Oh, I’ve got several of those.  The Tia Juana has always been one of my favorites for the last 25 years.  The steak is wonderful.  Grand Avenue Café is another of my favorites.  The Sidewalk is a great place.  Garcia’s.  Wee-Too, sometimes…

Route 60 Sentinel: Whoa! Wait, you’re crossing a line there going over to North Enid.

Eric Benson: I know, I know.  But I can hide in plain sight there.

Route 60 Sentinel: You know, if push comes to shove, I think we could take North Enid and reclaim it.

Eric Benson: Yeah, we’ve got it in the pocket.


 

Route 60 Sentinel: Downtown really is going through a change.  I hate to use the word “Renaissance,” but that’s really what’s going on.

Eric Benson:  You know, we used that word and it just stuck.

Route 60 Sentinel: 60 votes another way and it might have been even more of a “Renaissance.”

Eric Benson: You know, here’s the other side of that.  Who’s to say that isn’t the watershed moment in our history?  It came on the heels of a $100 million victory, and we have to celebrate that.  We knew we had a tall hill to climb.  We had to overcome my vicious, overbearing, and mean personality.  I’m a Minionaire, after all.

Route 60 Sentinel: Are the rumors of feasting on children unfounded?

Eric Benson: It’s been overblown.  Only at Thanksgiving and Christmas.  I wouldn’t want anyone to know of course.

Route 60 Sentinel: We’ll keep it between us.


 

Route 60 Sentinel: Now that the Commission has given you permission to negotiate a possible purchase of the old Homeland building, is it possible that we could get them to give you permission to acquire what used to be Oakwood Mall, since it’s barely in use now?

Oakwood Mall Internment Camp

Oakwood Mall Internment Camp

Eric Benson: Make it a Tech Center you think?  Veteran’s Home?

Route 60 Sentinel: It’d be a better use.

Eric Benson: Think of all the lumber we could stack in there.  Hay gets a bit dusty, so that would be no good with allergies and all of that.

Route 60 Sentinel: Internment camps perhaps?

Eric Benson: For those who won’t drink the Kool-Aid….that’s right!  We could condemn them to a life of Muzak.  You’re on to something here, son!


 

Route 60 Sentinel: The position of City Manager seems to be a thankless job.  I don’t really have a question here; I just thought I’d toss that out there as a statement.

Eric Benson: (Laughs) I’ll tell you something about that.  I got a great piece of advice from a mentor one time and I really cling to it.  He said that unless you have an internal barometer of success and nobody cares about it except you, but if you put your guidance in your internal barometer and keep it on “moral North” then you can accomplish something.  It sustains me.  Do I recommend this as a career choice?  Probably not.  (Laughs)


Route 60 Sentinel: I feel a little guilty asking this, having just been presented with this coin…..

Eric Benson: Wait until the radiation kicks in….

Route 60 Sentinel: (Laughs) …but who do I have to talk to about getting a key to the city?

Eric Benson: (Begins looking in vain around his desk for a key)  How about a key chain to the City of Enid?

Route 60 Sentinel: (Laughs) That’ll work.  (Benson hands Route 60 an OSU keychain) NOPE!  This will not work!

Eric Benson: (Starts fumbling through a box of junk) OK, let’s see here….uh, no….not that.

Route 60 Sentinel: How about we just call it good with the coin?

Eric Benson: OK.


 

Route 60 Sentinel: Where do I apply to become a crony?

Eric Benson: Well, now you are starting to ask these tough, personal questions.

Route 60 Sentinel: It keeps getting better, I promise.

Eric Benson: Cronies…..there’s a proving period, you know?

Route 60 Sentinel: Is Tammy Wilson a crony yet?

Eric Benson: Yeah, but she was a crony long before she thought she was.  She was a crony back when she was a big critic.

Route 60 Sentinel: I was once a big critic as well.  I was actually a citizen who attended the infamous “recall” meetings.” – one of only two people to have attended all three meetings.  By the second meeting, we started to steer it away from a recall, for obvious reasons, and more towards a citizen action group, and then people stopped showing up.  Nobody wanted to get involved.

Eric Benson: But one of your members did get involved.  She was elected to the City Council.  Now that… THAT shows me character.  When you are willing to get out in front and not hide behind some anonymous vicious blog or forum.  You know the worst thing that you could possibly say to me?

Route 60 Sentinel: Accidentally call you Bob Berry?

Eric Benson: Well, there is that.  But now we are talking infectious diseases.  No, the worst thing is to say, “I wouldn’t have your job for anything.”  That tells me you aren’t interested in trying to contribute to your community.  If you won’t take the hardest job, who will?  And I’m not saying this is the hardest job, but you know what I mean.


 

Route 60 Sentinel: Can you show me where the mythical “City Fathers” meet to smoke stogies and sip brandy?

Eric Benson

Mr. Benson became very serious when I asked him about "The City Fathers" (photo courtesy of codyjensen.com)

 

Eric Benson: Sorry, now you are really getting into the prohibitive zone.

Route 60 Sentinel: I was really hoping to get in there.

Eric Benson: (With a decidedly serious look and tone)  I will say this.  The air is thick with black smoke.

Route 60 Sentinel: So, let me figure out a way to phrase this… As someone who has been here for seven years now, do you believe or subscribe to the theory or thoughts that there are people or “forces” that want to constrict Enid…

Eric Benson: (Interrupts)  It’s true.  It’s true.  And I’m not being facetious.  It’s true.  And none of them are what I would term a “city father.”  They are “city charlatans.”


 

Route 60 Sentinel: What’s on your iPod?  What music do you have?

Eric Benson: Let’s look.  (Pulls out phone and hands it to me) There, you tell me what’s on it.

Route 60 Sentinel: (Looks and finds nothing)  You have no music?

Eric Benson: I know.  I’ll pay $10 for an album or CD, but why would I pay .99 a song?  I mean, come on.

Route 60 Sentinel: The economics of what you just said kind of scares me… especially during budget time.

Eric Benson: (Laughs) I do want to show you what I do have on here.  Audio books.

Route 60 Sentinel: What are you reading currently?

Eric Benson: “Geronimo” and I just finished “Go Down Together: The True Story of Bonnie and Clyde.”  Fascinating book!  In fact, can I just download it to your phone?

Route 60 Sentinel: Uh, no.  That’s a copyright issue.

Eric Benson: I bought it fair and square.

Route 60 Sentinel: I believe it’s a file sharing deal.  They frown on that.

Eric Benson: Well, you learn something every day.


 

Route 60 Sentinel: The people of Enid have been hearing rumors for years about a lake.  We know how important obtaining a future water source is for our town.  Probably more important than most people even realize.  If I may be so bold… Where’s our damn lake already?

Eric Benson: I’ll say this.  I had one ready to go south of the Air Force Base and the Air Force shut it down.  The other two “maybe” locations will be Lahoma and East of Hennessey.

Route 60 Sentinel: I’m thinking one would be good on the East side of town just as you come into town.

Eric Benson: There’s about 160 acres available there.  Do you know how many we need to provide our water source?  We need at least 6,000 acre/ft of water.  So, we can’t do it with a mud hole.  In 25 years at our current rate of growth and consumption, our aquifers will be dry.  So, what do you think we should do?  I’m turning the tables and asking you….

Route 60 Sentinel: I’m not sure I’m qualified to answer that.

Eric Benson: Sure you are!

Route 60 Sentinel: Well, we have to do everything in our power to prepare now for that inevitability.

Eric Benson: Now, are we willing to say that the single-best, cheapest, and most suitable option puts us at odds with the Air Force?  Do we: A.) Capitulate and go without water, B.) Capitulate and find another spot and spend 50% more?  Those are your options.  Do you think the Air Force would be here if we do nothing and don’t have any water?  Think about having a 28 mile shoreline that we could own and control and could develop.  We could have the Enid Water & Lake Tourism & Recreational Authority.  Would that be a good economic venture?  I say yes.  But we’ve got to start and we’ve got to start now.  We’ve got to start buying the land.  We’ve got to start building a dam.

 


 

Route 60 Sentinel: What are your hobbies?

Eric Benson, Cowboy

 

Eric Benson: Hunting, fishing, working with my horses on my ranch…


 

Route 60 Sentinel: Do you get a chance to watch movies?

Eric Benson: Big movie fan!

Route 60 Sentinel: What is Eric Benson’s favorite movie or movies?

Eric Benson: Everything from “The Maltese Falcon” to “Lonesome Dove,” from “True Grit” to “True Grit.”

Route 60 Sentinel: You liked the new “True Grit?”

Eric Benson: I did.  I thought the original was ruined by Glen Campbell.

Route 60 Sentinel: Military movies?

Eric Benson: Sure!  “Saving Private Ryan.”  What I found fascinating about that was that people didn’t realize the carnage going on during the invasion until that movie really.  I read a lot about military history.  “Killer Angels” is a great one.  Profoundly moving.  I gotta warn you; this conversation could go on all afternoon.  (Laughs)

Route 60 Sentinel: (Laughs)


 

Route 60 Sentinel: What’s your biggest flaw?

Eric Benson: I’ve got several.  Chief among them is that I take things personally, and failing to understand why people don’t believe me when I’m telling them the truth, simply because they don’t like me.  They don’t know me.  They don’t trust me.  They don’t know anything about me.  But I am the anti-Christ because I’m the City Manager.  Another flaw is that I give out too much loyalty and I presume it’s in a like exchange.


 

Route 60 Sentinel: How have things changed in the relationships amongst management and the employees?City of Enid workers

Eric Benson: We’ve made great strides. When I first got here, there were some issues of mistrust between department heads, employees… you do this, you go pick a city employee of your choosing and ask them if there is a difference between five years ago and today.  I’ll stand by whatever reaction they give.  We have an extraordinarily talented and very dedicated workforce.  If I could tell this community anything, it’s that they are incredibly well served by a group of dedicated professionals who make next to shit in pay.


 

Route 60 Sentinel: You are given the time machine from “Back to the Future” to go back and see three historical figures.  Who do you go see?

Eric Benson: Abraham Lincoln.  Crazy Horse.  Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson… George Patton.  Hirohito.  Genghis Khan.  Charles de Gaulle.  Mata Hari.  The world is full of fascinating people.


 

Route 60 Sentinel: If Hollywood were to make a movie on your life, who would play you in “The Eric Benson Story?”

Eric Benson: It wouldn’t be made (Laughs).  Robert Duvall or Tommy Lee Jones.


 

Route 60 Sentinel: Just between you and me (and everyone reading this), how long do you think it will take before Commissioner Wilson cusses during a commission meeting?

Eric Benson: I’m surprised it hasn’t happened already.  But we really haven’t presented her with too many opportunities yet.

Route 60 Sentinel: I can’t wait.

Eric Benson: Yeah, it’s gonna be fun.  But you know the one thing I like about that lady among her many great traits is that she’s not pretentious about that stuff.  She doesn’t hide or embrace that mantle of political correctness.  And you know what?  In our community that’s an essential item and a source of true democracy.


 

Route 60 Sentinel: Talk about the current political atmosphere.

Eric Benson: You know my years in Washington, D.C… at the closest to the throne as anyone wanted to get – I always came away, not because of the man I worked for – he was the shining beacon in all of it – but the system that is Washington, D.C., I always came away thinking I needed to burn my clothes.  And it’s different here, but it’s more vicious and it’s less, uh… at least you knew (in D.C.), they were being intentionally caustic and knew they didn’t mean it and here your neighbors will look you in the eye… I heard it said best one time.  A police officer sees the dark side of humanity.  A public servant sees the dark side of good people.  That makes it even more tragic.

Route 60 Sentinel: So, just to clarify, and I want you to say it again, the political atmosphere is way more vicious…

Eric Benson: (Cuts off) It’s far more disheartening and heartbreaking.

Route 60 Sentinel: Than Washington?

Eric Benson: Than Washington D.C.

Route 60 Sentinel: Wow….that’s all I can say.

Eric Benson: I have people who see me and tell me they like me and like what I am doing.  I just smile because I’ve already been told by someone else that particular person thinks I’m a worthless fuck.  Just tell me the truth.  If you want to know why I’m doing something, come see me and I’ll show you.  But if you want to sit at home and presume you have the facts… come and get the facts and you’ll change your mind.


 

Route 60 Sentinel: Talk about your early impressions of Enid.  Before you were City Manager.

Eric Benson: I came here in the 1970’s and honestly thought this was where Norman Rockwell could have lived.  That east side was… just look at all those pretty, well maintained homes.  I came back in the 1980’s, and the oil boom hit, those houses were getting cheaper and I thought maybe I should buy some.  Then, I came back in the 2000’s.  I felt as if I must have been drunk thinking that Norman Rockwell lived in these homes.  To those of us who haven’t lived here all our lives, this town has made a huge change for the worse.

Route 60 Sentinel: I grew up on the east side.  I saw some of that transition.

Eric Benson: It must’ve been heartbreaking.

Route 60 Sentinel: It was.  I can drive by some of the homes I lived in as a child… homes that I thought were nice, good homes and they are shambles or dilapidated shells of what they once were.

Eric Benson: With pit bulls chained in the backyard.  Let me ask you a question.  What do you think about making it illegal to chain a dog in the backyard?

Route 60 Sentinel: That doesn’t seem right.  Chaining a dog on your own property?

Eric Benson: Chaining or tethering a dog is not an acceptable form of restraint for a pet.  Who has dogs tied up in their backyard?  What kind of dogs are they?

Route 60 Sentinel: I get your meaning.

Eric Benson: What do you think we ought to do about it?  You ever see the effects of Meth?

Route 60 Sentinel: I just think it might be cruel to chain a dog anyway.

Eric Benson: I submit, if people own a pet dog, they don’t chain the dog.  The people that I’m speaking of are chaining dogs, not pets.


 

Route 60 Sentinel: Are you aware of the person who calls themselves “The Builder?”

The Builder

The Builder should feel warned by Benson's statements, but in the end, Benson said he doesn't spend much time thinking about it.

Eric Benson: The Builder?  Is that the graffiti guy?

Route 60 Sentinel: Yes.

Eric Benson: Only vicariously.  I have yet to see his work.  I would prefer you not to endorse or encourage him because he will get caught and have to face the music.  But I do hear interesting things about him.

Route 60 Sentinel: Is it graffiti as you say, or is it art?

Eric Benson: Its art when it’s singular, its graffiti when its multiple.  And it’s art when it’s on canvas.

Route 60 Sentinel: What if it’s on paper?

Eric Benson: Art.  There are certain societal expectations about where things should be placed and not be placed.  This is our societal living area.  We shouldn’t tolerate noise and pollution and graffiti in this zone.

Route 60 Sentinel: It’s tough for me to accept that it’s bad for our city because of the positive message.

Eric Benson: You have to embrace the positive message that’s there.  Now, let me ask you a question.  At a train crossing, you see a train car with a bunch of stuff on it.  Is that art or graffiti?

Route 60 Sentinel: In some cases it’s art, and in most cases it’s graffiti.

Eric Benson: The guy that owns the train doesn’t think it’s art.  Those poles the graffiti are on, are your poles… our poles.

Route 60 Sentinel: Well, I’m happy if it’s there then.

Eric Benson: I think it’s a slippery slope.  Kept in the right conditions… My hat’s off to him.  He’s either too young to have a job or he has a lot of money.  He does a lot of interesting stuff.  I’d like to harness his imagination.  My hat is off to him for being innovative with the searches for the different things and all of that.  But at the end of the day, I don’t really give him much thought.


 

Route 60 Sentinel: The newly remodeled Enid Police Department looks great.  The Fire Station looks good.  But City Hall looks like it was built in 1962.

Eric Benson: Yeah, you see that trim? (points to trim on a wall in his office)  This entire office was covered in that, until we ripped some panels off and painted it.  And I hope you don’t think I’m being too ostentatious, we just got this new furniture.  My old chair, its arms would fall off.  We decided it was time that it needed to look more professional.

Route 60 Sentinel: Is nothing ever budgeted for remodeling or anything like that?  Upkeep?

Eric Benson: Nope.  We don’t spend money on that stuff.  My secretary finally said, “Do you know what kind of image you’re projecting?”  I said, “One of power and authority, why do you ask?”  She replied, “No, it looks like a slum in here.”


 

Route 60 Sentinel: What’s your favorite beer?

Eric Benson: Corona.  But only with lime.  I’ve gotten to where I kind of like some of the stuff from some of the micro-breweries like Boulevard.  I don’t drink beer a lot.


 

Eric Benson

"Bob has a power complex and I've told him that to his face." (photo by codyjensen.com)

Route 60 Sentinel: What would you say publicly to the Bob Berrys of the world especially in light of the current situations downtown?

Eric Benson: Bob is a dedicated guy who wants to do right by the community.  But he has a massive problem with power control and I’ve told him this to his face.  I love Bob like a brother.  I think he’s nuttier than the March Hare.  But he has a power complex.  He thinks he has to control the destiny of everyone in this town.  It’s unhealthy, quite frankly.  But his heart is sincere and his heart is in the right place.  So, I can only get so mad at the dumb son of a bitch.

Update:  We contacted Mr. Benson and asked him about a new question regarding yesterday’s court decision in the case Berry v. The City of Enid:

Route 60 Sentinel: Do you have any new comments (or revised comments) particularly in light of the court’s decision today?  Especially about your friend Bob?

Eric Benson: This is a setback for sure, and an expensive one. We will lose our guaranteed max price and we know the steel and concrete bids will come back over estimates. Bob’s actions will add at least 1.5 million dollars to the final cost.


 

Route 60 Sentinel: What would you say to critics who hide behind anonymous names on the internet?

Eric Benson: You are absolutely destructive to our way of life.  And I’m not overstating this.  You are a cancer in our society with your anonymous half-baked notions that the internet gives an air of credibility to.  It plants a seed that grows and can’t be controlled by an herbicide.  It scares me and it’s dangerous.

I take massive exception with any newspaper editor who even considers spending time exchanging sophomoric and misinformed words with an anonymous pack of social parasites whose goal is the disruption of civil discourse. I will gladly discuss any issue with anyone possessing the courage to identify themselves.


 

Eric Benson: I have enjoyed this but, Mark,  I need to get to a meeting.

Route 60 Sentinel: Absolutely.  I appreciate everything you’ve said today – your candor.

Eric Benson: Let’s do it again someday.

Route 60 Sentinel: How about let’s make a regular feature where our readers can submit questions if they so choose and we will get them to you to respond to?  A lot of people would like to hear answers from the horse’s mouth so-to-speak, but are a bit gun shy from coming up to your office.  That or they are a bit lazy.

Eric Benson: I’d hate to put all that work on you.  But I’m game if you are.

Route 60 Sentinel: I’m game.  Let’s make it happen.