Last fall, Melissa Youssef carefully considered whether she would put her name in for another four-year term on Durango City Council. By year’s end, she was committed – she couldn’t bring herself to leave when, in her view, the city is at a pivotal stage.
“It’s such a critical time,” said Youssef, 55. “I want to continue to serve because I want to be part of the continuity for implementation of those top priorities and goals that we’ve identified.”
Youssef is the only incumbent candidate among seven total candidates running for three open seats for Durango City Council during the April 6 election. She says she is running for continuity on the council, to keep making progress on City Council goals and because she enjoys representing the community.
“I enjoy talking about city issues, hearing from people about their various perspectives and representing those views,” Youssef said. “You have to enjoy working with people, listening to people and representing them. That is a key part of what we do.”
In her last four-year term, Youssef and the four other City Council members navigated crisis management through high-level leadership transitions, a $710,000 embezzlement case, social reform protests and the coronavirus pandemic.
Her campaign website lists progress on 37 items in 2020, spanning homelessness, environmental sustainability, housing partnerships, capital projects, social activism and COVID-19 response.
“We were, as the City Council team, in a pretty continual reactionary crisis mode,” Youssef said. “What I took away from those moments was the importance of ... working together to stabilize and get us back on track.”
She is ready to jump back into the ring, aiming to bring hands-on experience and institutional knowledge to the table.
If re-elected, she said her primary responsibility would be to ensure the City Council implements the goals it has identified.
All of those goals are “critically important,” but if she had to pick one top priority it would be working toward the city’s financial excellence and transparency goals.
“We recognize that we have structural financial imbalances,” Youssef said.
She said one-time revenues need to pay for one-time expenses, and ongoing revenues should pay for continuing expenses.
“That is where we want to get because that is the point of financial sustainability,” she said.
The city’s financial to-do list needs to include improving internal financial controls and the long-term financial sustainability of the general fund and all operating funds. The city also needs to build its financial transparency and rebuild the public’s trust, she said.
“Sustainability, transparency and accountability are all vitally important in this area,” she said.
Her top priority aligns with her professional background. Youssef has a master’s degree in business administration and was the CEO and founder of Pyramid Billing, a Durango medical billing practice, until 2015 – the end of a 30-year career in finance.
She often finds herself drawing on that experience while performing council duties. The city of Durango’s total revenue in 2020 was $102.7 million, and City Council members play a leading role in deciding how the money gets spent.
Not only has Youssef gone through the city’s budget process four times, but she also helped define city and budget priorities, she said.
“That direct, live, hands-on experience in this case is critically important for understanding how it (the budget) works,” Youssef said.
Youssef acts as the council liaison to the Strategy and Long-Term Finance Committee, the Creative Economy Commission and the La Plata County Economic Recovery Task Force – restaurant and retail sectors.
She is also the city’s representative to the Colorado Municipal League Policy Committee, a member of the Urban Renewal Authority Board of Directors and on the La Plata Economic Development Alliance Board of Directors.
Overall, her decision to ask for the support of voters once again is tied to her roots in the community, she said.
“I have lived here since 1997, raised three children here and will always call Durango my home,” Youssef said. “I care about the well-being of our community and recognize the importance of addressing key initiatives we have identified, continuing the forward momentum and building upon our successes.”