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Colorado Municipalities
April 2019

By Sam Mamet, Colorado Municipal League executive director (recently retired)


Looking Back and Looking Forward

“The time has come to talk of many things, said the walrus to the carpenter, of shoes and ships, and sealing wax, and cabbages and kings.” Well, in my case, the time has come to talk of only one thing: My retirement.

After 40 years on the staff, the past 14 as executive director, it is time. When you read this, I will have become officially and blissfully irrelevant — an overripe Rocky Ford melon rolling down the steps and out the door. There is a new sheriff in CML town, and his name is Kevin Bommer. Most of you already know and admire Kevin for his vision, passion, and bold leadership. He has been on this staff for 20 years, most recently as deputy director. The future of this organization is in very good hands; he has my complete and total support.

While my personal preference is always to say, “Go Buffs!” I will make one exception in his honor. I will say, “Go Pokes!”

And since I am handing out kudos, let me say congratulations to the CML Executive Board for its unanimous and wise choice. I also want to give a shout-out to my current staff colleagues. These are the women and men who make this place the great organization it is. They toil in the trenches dedicated to serve your interests as municipal leaders in a most professional manner day in and day out. 

A Bit of Memory Lane

I fell in love with local government while attending Albright College in Reading, Pennsylvania. I had an internship working for that city’s mayor, who also happened to be a college administrator. He told me to answer the phones and take down inquiries from residents and follow up on them. I was to keep him informed. I wrote an occasional speech for him. He warned me that he was up for re-election that fall and that if I screwed up and he lost, it would be my fault. He said this in a rather salty tone, with a big wink and a smile. From that, I got my first taste of the noble cause we know as public service. That is when I came to realize there is no better place in which to work than local government.

I remember when I applied to CML, it was 1979. I had been bouncing around the country in a variety of public policy jobs at the state and local levels after I got my master’s in public administration from the University of Colorado (CU) Boulder. I was in Nevada at the time, living in Las Vegas and working as one of several assistants to the Clark County manager. In my case, I was handling all of the county’s lobbying in Carson City, along with representing the Nevada Association of Counties. 

A pal of mine, Alex Brown, was working for CML, and he told me about an opening for an “intergovernmental affairs associate.” In other words, it was a lobbying gig. Alex and I had worked together in Pennsylvania, where I worked for the legislature and where he lobbied for one of the local government associations. Years later, after he left the League, Alex wound up serving on the Cherry Hills Village Council and told me that I was now working for him!

I very much wanted to return to Colorado, so I applied. 

Ken Bueche was the boss man. He was none too sure about me. “You have moved around a lot; you going to stay here for any length of time?” he asked in a rather intimidating tone. Well, it has been 40 years, and he still brings it up! It helped that one of my references was not only my CU advisor, but Ken’s as well, the great Dr. Leo Reithmayer, who was a major influence in both of our professional lives. 

I could not have asked to work for a finer human being. Ken was not only my boss, but a mentor, a father 

confessor, and best of all, my friend. A tremendous lawyer, Ken exhibited a keen and precise understanding of government law. 

We traveled together for 27 years. We had the car break down on us in the middle of the night along I-70 outside Stratton; we took a very bumpy flight into Grand Junction’s old Walker Field (the only time I saw Ken take a stiff drink in the middle of the day — we were not sure how that plane ride was going to come out!); we got stranded in a snowstorm in Creede for at least a day or so; and I remember the time he made me walk over the border into Nebraska just because we were in Julesburg, and he wanted me to say I had walked to Nebraska. 

We worked on tough issues together at the Colorado statehouse. We had some bruising battles over municipal annexation; we got the lottery passed (the only state lottery earmarking significant proceeds to parks and open space, and I am so proud of that); and we lived through numerous TABOR fights. 

When TABOR passed in 1992, it was Ken’s vision to pull together the best finance and legal minds in the state to figure out its implementation. This work stands the test of time; many of the major cases involving TABOR have CML’s fingerprints all over them.

I learned the art of reading bills from Ken. He was meticulous in reading a bill and drafting amendments. “If you want something done right, draft it yourself,” he used to tell me and many others on the staff. And here is a little snippet of the result that advice would get us.

When we lobbied and had an amendment, he always made sure that we had CML and one of our names on the amendment with the date. We had one state senator (who shall remain nameless) always read through our amendment word by word at the microphone and would then read, “This amendment prepared by CML and Ken Bueche/Sam Mamet.” Oh gosh, would we get razzed for that in the lobby!

During my professional career, I have known and worked closely with six governors, nine U.S. senators, dozens of individuals who served our state in the U.S. House, and hundreds of state lawmakers. I am proud of the fact that today, in this current General Assembly we have 17 former municipal officials serving under the Gold Dome. This is historic. I know them all and say that with great pride.

Finally, I count thousands of municipal leaders as the best friends a guy could ever ask for.  

A History Lesson

CML is one of the oldest of the state municipal leagues having started in 1923 on the CU Boulder campus, as most state leagues were founded on the campus of a major university, generally staffed by that institution’s political science department. CML is one of a handful of state leagues across the country that helped to establish what is known today as the National League of Cities (NLC).

It is that legacy of training municipal leaders in the practice of sound local governance that Kevin will now oversee. He is the eighth CML executive director since 1923 and only the third since 1974. 

Within this organization, we all stand on the shoulders of giants — great women and men who have been guiding CML since 1923.

I want to recognize Kevin’s predecessors in order of their places in history: Don Sowers, Bill Grinnel, Jay Bell, Curtis Blyth, Dick MacRavey, Ken Bueche (34 years, a record that will never be surpassed), and yours truly since 2005. 

I also want to honor a few tremendous women I was lucky enough to work for as CML presidents. 

Recently, I reunited with Annette Brand, who was our president when she was Delta city manager and the first woman to become president of the Colorado City/County Managers Association. 

Jane Quimby, who as mayor of Grand Junction, oversaw her beloved city as it endured the economic hardship of Chevron closing its facilities on the Western Slope. It put a number of communities into a tailspin, and as mayor, Jane led with class and determination.

Cathy Reynolds served as CML president, president of the Denver City Council, and president of NLC. She was so good and very much loved CML and NLC. I always enjoy being in her presence, along with her hubby, Rick.

There are other women who merit recognition: our Immediate Past President and Northglenn Mayor Carol Dodge, Lorraine Anderson, Barb Cleland, Edith Evans, Annette Anderson, Ruth Fountain, Jan Gelhausen, Patricia Vice, Mary Brown, Diana Wilson, Christina Rinderle, Margaret Carpenter, and Susan Thornton. I thank them for their service, leadership, and friendship.

On a personal note, I want to honor the memory of my colleague Susan Griffiths, who was one of the single finest legal minds I have ever worked with anywhere. We had a lot of fun together, and I do think of Susan often. There is a bronze statue dedicated to Susan in our lobby. She was one of a kind indeed.

If there is one thing that is CML’s brand, it is stability and continuity. This is relied upon by all who interact with CML, and we should never lose sight of that fact.

Challenges

In his keynote address at the League’s first annual conference in Boulder on the CU campus, University President George Norlin implored municipal leaders to dedicate themselves “for the sake of the best life.” He said:

And the best thing which has happened is the dawn of the conviction among us that the municipality can and should be a partnership in promoting the best and fullest life.

This is a profound sentiment and should guide our work at all times.

Here are some of my thoughts on seven future challenges:

Leadership. The churn of municipal leadership is continuous. I believe new blood circulating through the municipal body politic is a good thing; however, where are future leaders coming from? To serve in municipal government as an elected official is not to advance an agenda. It is to focus on the greater good. One place to cultivate future leaders is a youth commission. Please establish one if you do not have one already. Also, a growing number of municipalities hold citizen leadership academies. Finally, having active advisory boards and commissions is a great way to recruit new mayors, councilmembers, and trustees.

Local Control. I really do not know what local control means — I never really have. I know what home rule is because it has its foundation in our beloved Colorado Constitution since 1902. Here is the point: We have a deep and wonderful partnership with the state government. In that partnership, we have had disagreements, and then we move on. I value that relationship and ask that you respect it. And the best place to work on these issues is within the friendly confines of CML. 

Infrastructure. This is a tough nut to crack. There has been a tremendous focus on transportation, and we just have not yet crossed the finish line. More recently, I have been focused on water and how to fulfill the many needs identified in Gov. John Hickenlooper’s excellent 2015 state water plan. The greatest challenge we have is Lake Mead in Nevada; if there is ever a call on the Colorado River Compact, all of us will know it as a major headwaters state. Municipal leadership means understanding water policy and then explaining this challenge to our citizens.

Homelessness. There but for the grace of God go I. One of the singularly most complicated matters affecting many cities and towns across Colorado is homelessness. I have been observing a number of municipal leaders reaching across boundary lines and engaging fellow municipal officials — you are thinking about the issue holistically and engaging many folks in your community. This is what needs to be done.

Opioid Abuse. For more than 12 years, the League has hosted a statewide task force out of the Attorney General’s Office to examine the many dimensions of drug abuse. It is a health epidemic, and municipal officials need to acknowledge it as, sadly, occurring in your city or town. There are a number of experts you can turn to. It is a communitywide conversation, and certainly one in which you can demonstrate leadership. Many of you are; thanks for that.

Climate Change. When I first became involved with this issue, I observed that, while the national government and the states might be lagging behind, cities and towns are leading the way with small yet important initiatives. This remains so today. It is a quintessential example of how local officials step up to the plate. 

Tax Policy. When, oh when, will we tackle TABOR in Colorado? It is the biggest pothole in the state, and it needs to be patched. All roads lead to TABOR, both at the state and local levels. And the Gallagher Amendment is a major stress upon rural Colorado antecedent to TABOR, which has been made difficult to address because of TABOR. It will take a broad coalition with clear-cut and understandable policy choices. I am optimistic we shall see the day sooner rather than later when this all can be addressed. I hope I am a part of it as a private citizen.

Council–Manager Form of Government. I have always been a champion of this governance model. It is vibrant in our state. I also acknowledge that in some communities a change in the governance model may be necessary. I respect that. At the end of the day it always does turn on the people holding those particular positions. A clear understanding of roles and responsibilities is essential at all times.

Parting Thoughts

Dr. Seuss once said, “To the world, you might be one person; but, to one person, you might be the world.” 

I think the people I have been honored to know and to work with as municipal leaders are seen by many as the world. You are the ones who really make things happen. You work tirelessly to ensure that your city or town is the best place to live, to work, and to play. 

God bless each of you for that, for you will always be in my heart and embedded deep in the fiber of my bones. 

This is the greatest state in the union, our beloved Colorado. Go forth and continue to do good for her.

 

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