When Garrison Ortiz says he had to work to get to where he is today, he isn’t kidding. The Pueblo native and county commissioner was raised by his mother and extended family, and recalls, while campaigning, trying to convince his grandmother to vote for him.
“She said it depended on where I stood on the issues,” he said.
She did vote for him, and so did enough of his fellow Puebloans to elect Ortiz, 27, to office. Ortiz was sworn in Jan. 20 and just witnessed his 100th-day milestone as a public servant.
Ortiz spoke with the Business Journal this week about hard work, changing perceptions and striving for an A-grade in the public sector.
You’re a Pueblo native?
I’ve been here all my life and began working in the private sector shortly after graduating CSU-Pueblo with my MBA. I’ve always lived here but traveled extensively. After being elected it was, in a way, like coming back home.
I worked for [business management consultant] the Hackett Group, which is based in Miami, Fla. I contracted on several public- and private-sector projects, including for the United States Patent and Trade Office in Alexandria, Va. I worked for the Metropolitan Council in Minnesota, Thomson Reuters [Corporation] in [Philadelphia] — all over for about four and a half years.
What were you doing?
I was under the enterprise performance management umbrella. I worked in Hyperion, which is the top budgeting/forecasting/reporting software for Oracle. … I worked with a pretty multidisciplinary team to implement these budgeting/forecasting/reporting solutions. I was more on the functional side in a project manager, client-facing role. … I worked with about 16 companies during that timeframe — from the United States to Mexico City to Canada.
Did you always want to pursue a career in politics?
It’s something I kind of fell into.
I graduated from Delores Huerta [High School] and received the Kane Scholarship. I was a biology major in college and made the decision to minor in business. … But I had an opportunity to get my MBA and have it paid for with my scholarship. I went business all the way and switched from biology. I had one week off after school and immediately went to work in the private sector.
A year prior I had run a couple campaigns and had been involved in the community. I created a youth program for middle school students when I was a senior in high school. … Middle school is an impressionable time. … It was in middle school that role models stepped into my life … and I wanted to do the same thing. When I started I needed resources … and that’s how I became engaged with civic leaders.
Why county commissioner?
I like the ability to be impactful. I looked at several positions in the community and felt I brought strong budgetary experience and thought it was an opportunity to do good things in my community. Young leaders will help shape the future of tomorrow. I’ve tried to balance and leverage wisdom and the things our past leaders have done well and bridge that with new and more efficient ways of doing things.
You think I’m young now? When I first started looking at running, I was 24. I took a lot of time to ramp up and went through things systematically. … I was approached by someone at the time who said I was liked and had good experience but I was far too young and had to wait my turn for county commissioner. …Throughout my campaign I said that I won’t wait my turn. I don’t think I should have to wait my turn and don’t feel the community should have to wait its turn for the type of leadership I felt I represented.
You’ve developed a hands-on reputation?
It’s cliché and trite to say that you wouldn’t ask people to do work you wouldn’t do yourself, but everything I’ve accomplished I’ve had to really work for. Anything entrepreneurially, academically. Going out and seeing how people do their jobs and genuinely show you care can go a long way. I’ve gone out at 3 in the morning to Colorado City to see how they plow snow as part of a committee I put together to look at roads, bridges and infrastructure. I’ve also started a jail task force. That’s a huge initiative. I was there Saturday when there were leaks and flooding in the cells because of the snow. We recently had a couple deputies attacked and I went out during the graveyard shift. They said they’d never seen a commissioner there at 11 o’clock at night. … I want to show leadership and appreciation for what [county employees] do.
Talk about your district.
I represent District 2. The county is broken into three districts, but all three commissioners make decisions every day that affect the whole county. … My district encompasses the majority of the [southern county] and a slice of Pueblo West, but also the mountainous areas of Rye, Beulah and Colorado City.
Something else I’ve tried to do is be more available to communities like Rye, Beulah, Colorado City, Avondale, who don’t feel like they’ve been quite as represented. I’ve started community meetings in some of those areas.
What are some challenges here?
One of the biggest areas needing improvement is changing the culture and the way we look at ourselves, starting in the home. I was raised by a lot of different people and made the very best out of what I was given. That was because of the culture in my house. I remember I got one B growing up. It was in science in the fourth grade. My mom wasn’t happy with the B. The standard was higher for my mom. To her education is everything. Education is the key to a better life.
What grade would you give yourself in your first 100 days?
I guess I would give myself a B again. I think I’ve done some good things, but if you asked me that in three years, where I’m more established and comfortable, I’d still give myself a B. There’s always room for improvement. I’ve always had a work ethic where you can always do better and improve things. That’s the way I take every day — just continue to work to improve the county that I’ve been chosen to lead. n CSBJ