Before being elected mayor of Manitou Springs on Nov. 7, Ken Jaray spent most of his professional life working as an attorney. He also is founder of several projects and nonprofits for the city, including the Manitou Springs Peak Living Project, whose mission is to make Manitou Springs a healthy city, and the Fountain Creek Restoration Project, which works to restore and revitalize the Fountain Creek ecosystem.
During his years in Manitou Springs, Jaray was asked if he ever considered running for mayor. He said the timing was never right.
This year, however, Jaray put his name in the race so he could be even more involved in the improvement of his community, and he defeated incumbent Nicole Nicoletta with nearly 65 percent of the vote.
Jaray, who has lived in Manitou Springs with his wife since 1979, spoke with the Business Journal about his new role and his future plans as mayor.
Why did you decide to run for mayor?
We became too focused on getting things done, such as reconstruction projects — and initially after an emergency, of course that’s needed. But I think we developed a sense that it was more important how much we got done rather than how we got it done. I started talking to my colleagues, community activists, people who have been involved in the community for a long time, and it turns out I wasn’t alone in this feeling. We felt that we weren’t being heard as much as we would have liked. When I found there were others having the same experience, not only was it reaffirming, it was disappointing. A number of them encouraged me to consider running. … When they asked this time, I couldn’t say no. I think, for me, it was a point of deciding that I was going to step forward and make the sacrifice to do this or I was going to let go, and I decided our town was worth fighting for. This was a role I could play to make a difference in bringing our community back together again, so here I am.
What will your main focus be as mayor?
We have a list of 60-plus projects that are underway, and the biggest job now is to manage those projects and get them completed. Then we will look very carefully at what other projects we want and need to take on. It was pointed out to City Council a year ago that maybe we’re trying to do too much for a small community, so I think one of our priorities is to finish the projects we’re doing now and finish them well. Then we will evaluate what other types of projects we need to do — but evaluate them as a community-based process rather than just a government-centered process.
What are some challenges moving forward?
It will be difficult, but it will be possible to address congestion, for instance. We have too many cars coming into Manitou Springs on busy summer weekends. People feel frustrated when they can’t find a place to park — they can’t even drive through town. The strategy is pretty simple: If it’s too congested, have fewer cars. How do you do that? If you go to a big attraction … they don’t let you drive and park anywhere. They direct you where space is available. Our community needs to approach it just like that — we will be able to know where there’s parking and we will then have an obligation to tell people, ‘Hey it’s too congested over here, park over there.’ … We haven’t been intentional about it, but we can be.
We could [also] take better advantage of people climbing the Incline or going up the [Pikes Peak] Cog Railway — we can better connect them to our community. We can let them know there are other experiences they can do, so I think we need to reach out to folks and say, ‘Hey we have great restaurants, we have great shops and we have other trails too.’ … Most communities would die to have 300,000 people coming to them, [but] the issue is how to do we connect them with our community so that it’s a mutually beneficial experience, as opposed to just them going to do the Incline?
How will you approach these challenges?
Listening, asking a lot of questions, collaboration and partnerships — making sure the right people are invited to participate and being willing to have folks who just have an interest and a passion to participate [in the community]. … The end goal is that people feel really inspired and empowered about participating and making our community a better place to live, work and play.
What are you most looking forward to as mayor?
The future looks great. We have and we will continue to build on the strong fabric of our community. One of the joys of living in a small town is you can participate in making that fabric stronger. If there’s a tear in the fabric, you can help to mend it.