In the 20 years that LexisNexis legal editor Jane Ard-Smith has lived in Colorado Springs, she’s witnessed many changes in the political, environmental and community landscapes. She’s also been a driving force behind some of them.

Between serving as board chairwoman at Citizens Project, which is celebrating its 25th year, and chairwoman of the local Sierra Club, she also finds time to serve on the boards for the League of Women Voters, Peak Alliance for a Sustainable Future and The Foundation for Colorado Springs School District 11.

“Until recently I hadn’t seen myself as a leader. I thought of myself more as just a doer,” said Ard-Smith, who moved to Colorado Springs from Oregon, where she was an environmental attorney. “I like to ask a lot of questions — a lot of hard questions — and help provide answers to those questions. I think it’s really important that all the voices at the table get expressed.

“It’s more than just offering people an opportunity to speak up, but making sure that they express their opinions. I think that translates on a larger scale, and it’s an opportunity for improvement in our community.”

At Citizens Project, Ard-Smith’s influence goes beyond turning the volume up on quieter voices.

“Jane’s fierce commitment to making this community great, coupled with an exceptional strategic mind, makes her an amazing asset to the Pikes Peak region,” said Deb Walker, executive director at Citizens Project. “You wouldn’t know that she is a force behind more than 10 nonprofit organizations and councils, though, because of her humility and willingness to get the important work done behind the scenes. Everything Jane is involved in she refines and makes better. She is no-nonsense, caring, smart and a role model to many. I am honored to be able to learn from her leadership and example.”

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Ard-Smith said her approach is about making decisions that are the best for the community instead of based on ideology.

“I may disagree with someone on the method to get there, but it’s critical that we all have the community’s best interests at heart,” she said. “It takes more than a handful of people sitting behind a closed door to move a community forward. That’s one of the things we’re starting to see, people are more engaged and we’re making better decisions as a result.

“We’re not aiming to get everyone to agree — we’re aiming to get everyone to understand that there are different perspectives and there are ways to engage in productive conversation over difficult issues.”

Ard-Smith’s work at the attorney general’s office in Oregon planted her in the middle of challenging litigation and political rhetoric. She chalks up her current confidence in navigating similar situations to her experience there — and her innate directness.

“Whenever you work with the environmental community and field, you’re going to see controversy,” she said. “And I learned very quickly that you can’t shy away from controversy, and you also can’t hide it. You can’t pretend it doesn’t exist, and you have to identify the problem before you can address it.

“I’ve learned that in nonprofits as well. People can be afraid to ask those difficult questions, and have those difficult conversations, but you can’t be afraid to ask the questions. It doesn’t always win you fans.

“It’s hard. Change is hard, and it’s so much easier to do what we’ve always done. We can’t evolve if we can’t ask what’s going on and why we’re doing it.”

The willingness to question the status quo launched her involvement in Colorado Springs activism. Volunteering with the Sierra Club, Ard-Smith helped propel the paving of Pikes Peak Highway, which had been delayed despite numerous studies illustrating the unpaved road’s erosive effects and waterway contamination.

“There was a clear problem that had been identified, and there was no political will or movement,” she said. “It’s something I’ve seen recurring in our community. We love to kick the can down the road.

“But what inspired me to get involved and stay involved is really helping the community gather information from the unheard voices, make better decisions and follow through.”

— Hannah Caproon