When the voters of Colorado Springs elected John Suthers as their new mayor in May, they obviously were hoping that the new administration would be more open, more upbeat and more collaborative. Those traits, many believed, would be essential in tackling the city’s most pressing issues — including improving our image in the outside world.
But what those voters didn’t realize was how quickly a chain reaction in leadership might help in other vital ways, such as setting the stage for a bright new era in local collaboration.
As we know all too well, the relationship between Colorado Springs and El Paso County in recent years could be described as distant at best, volatile at worst. We won’t get into pointing fingers here, but it’s safe to say the city and county have butted heads on many occasions.
The lack of cooperation was never more evident than last fall, when county leaders pushed hard for a regional solution to stormwater in the form of a ballot issue. Unfortunately, Springs Mayor Steve Bach opposed it, insisting that the city focus on its own stormwater efforts. That lack of unity provided the opening for naysayers to shoot down the measure, Pueblo felt more mistreated than ever — and all that only added to the pressure facing Suthers as he took office.
It’s hard to envision a better scenario for both sides.
Out of that debacle, it was clear the region needed some new players — or, more appropriately, new people in different roles. Many viewed Suthers’ election as the catalyst, but it was just the first step. The day after his runoff victory, Suthers named County Administrator Jeff Greene as the city’s chief of staff, and the county responded immediately by moving Henry Yankowski from his post as head of the Pikes Peak Regional Building Department to replace Greene on an interim basis.
Last week, the county commissioners voted 5-0 to make Yankowski’s job permanent, sending the strongest-possible signal of their confidence in him. As we’ll see in the weeks and months to come, though, the real winners here are the people of Colorado Springs and El Paso County.
It’s hard to envision a better scenario for both sides. Greene fits perfectly for the city after 15 years with the county, the last nine as its top executive. He walked into the City Administration Building with a huge amount of inside knowledge and expertise, not to mention a first-hand grasp of the city’s challenges.
But make no mistake, Yankowski’s new role as county administrator carries just as much meaning. His broad-based experiences in Virginia, Florida and Tennessee gave him a solid background for overseeing Regional Building and now the county.
Greene and Yankowski, aside from working together in so many areas already, have become good friends along the way. They won’t need to schedule meetings; they can communicate directly on a moment’s notice. If they ever disagree, it might be over where to meet for lunch.
This is all positive — but the two administrators have to know their friendship only adds to the expectations. They’re in the right positions now to make things happen, and to forge new alliances between the city and county that could make a huge difference for years, even decades, to come.
For both Henry Yankowski and Jeff Greene, it all starts by thinking regionally. In fact, they could turn that word into a new theme for all of us. As they know, the more we can do together, the better the outcomes for all of us.