A Pueblo native, Chris Wiseman is eager to try his hand at local government after working several years at the state and federal levels.
Wiseman was general manager of the Colorado State Fair for 12 years, and he will become the next District 3 Pueblo County commissioner in January.
“I have spent a lifetime in Pueblo but I’ve spent a lot of time working at both the federal and state level, so I know how they impact local government,” he said. “I really know and feel I have the expertise to do the job and want to use my connections throughout state and federal government to do the best job that I can for Pueblo.”
The South High School grad will replace Commissioner Sal Pace, who opted not to seek re-election.
Wiseman, a Democrat, recently retired from the Colorado Department of Agriculture, where he served as deputy commissioner for about 2½ years.
In the late ’80s, Wiseman worked for U.S. Senator Tim Wirth. He also spent 2½ years on Gov. Roy Romer’s staff.
Wiseman received a bachelor’s degree in sociology with an emphasis in criminology from the University of Southern Colorado — now CSU-Pueblo.
“I thought I was going to be a police officer or work for the Department of Corrections, but life goes in different directions,” he said.
The incoming commissioner spoke with the Business Journal this week about his goals once in office, which include tackling the county’s homeless problem and expanding industrial hemp production.
What are your top priorities?
One of the issues I want to work on right away is the homeless problem. Councilman Mark Aliff is working hard on that, but we need a permanent solution. We need to look at what is being done around the country as far as some of the most effective programs. You never completely get rid of people who are homeless but you can certainly provide services and be successful, like in places such as Salt Lake City and the program they just initiated in Aurora. They are doing a similar one in Colorado Springs where you can manage the [homeless] population and try to get to be effective as you can. I also want to work on economic development issues. I want to bring my [agricultural] background to that endeavor. I think there is still a lot of potential in the area of hemp. Right now, the CBD oils are being used that you can extract from hemp. But there is still potential for the fibers and what they can be used for, and that production or manufacturing hasn’t happened yet. Both Colorado and Kentucky and some other states are racing to see what they can do to facilitate that industry and I want to work on that.
I also think there is some great potential in hydroponics. There is actually one very successful hydroponics farm up in Lakewood that is done in a warehouse, but it can lend itself to the year-round production of crops and I think that is something that we need to take a hard look at. Science is getting better and better, particularly in recycling the water and the use of the soils.
I also would like to see a little more manufacturing jobs here in Pueblo. I want to work as closely as I can with whoever is the new mayor in Pueblo as well as the Pueblo Economic Development Corporation to see what we can do to bring more businesses here. The infrastructure in Pueblo County right now can hold another 160,000 people. We have the potential for growth. We have seen it happening around Colorado and now is the time to make that happen here, and I am going to do what I can do to help with that.
What is your leadership style?
Basically, I like to get all of the facts first. I try not to make a decision on any issue without listening to all the different variables that might impact that decision, and then I can come to a conclusion and move in that direction. I make a decision and that’s the direction I go in, but I like to be more pragmatic in my thought process and understand where everyone is coming from before I make a final decision. One of the other things that I would like to take a look at is something that was initiated by Gov. [John] Hickenlooper at the state level. It’s making government accountable to people and seeing them more as customers and relating to them in that fashion. You can have regulatory oversight of particular issues and processes but you also can actually help work with people to get them where they need to be in a respectful manner. We did that at the department of agriculture, particularly with the marijuana industry in bringing them up to compliance in the way that they use pesticide applicators. We went out and looked at the growers and saw a lot of areas where they weren’t following the proper guidelines but didn’t shut anyone down and instead worked with them to solve the problem. If [issues] continued, then, we would turn that over to the local health department, so they could get involved. But first, we tried to work with them.
What is a challenge your district currently faces?
The No. 1 issue is solving the homeless problem. It’s at the point where it’s a ‘not-in-my-backyard’ type of mentality. But it’s going to have to be solved, and we are going to have to find somewhere to put a [homeless shelter]. We need to find a solution and do it in a way where the services are all consolidated, so that we can move them from homeless to being able to work. There also is a shortage of workers in Pueblo. The need for qualified workers is one of the problems we are having with economic development. That’s something we need to take a look at too. You only solve that by moving new people to Pueblo and you need the industries to do that. It’s kind of a Catch-22. But I want to work as closely as I can with PEDCO and other county government to make that happen. I’m not just talking about in Pueblo, but Pueblo West and other areas in the county to meet the needs of those communities as well.
Expand on your plans for economic development.
The bottom line is I want to be a partner with PEDCO and the city. I don’t know what businesses they are out there attracting now. We have had a couple of good announcements in the last couple of months, and I just want to make sure the county is involved in all that as a partner. They are the experts in attracting new business, but you have to have the ability for all levels of government to work together for that to be able to happen. I worked for Sen. Wirth back in the late ’80s when Pueblo’s unemployment rate was above 20 percent, and I was here when they brought in all the new industries. That took a great partnership between all kinds of people to make that happen. I want to make sure we are working to make that happen again.
What about the possibility of Pueblo West incorporating?
That’s really for the citizens out there to decide. I actually went through a training program there the last few months. It’s called Pueblo West Metropolitan District Citizen’s Academy where they explain what the issues are there. They just started a process … to look at the issues that would be involved if they did incorporate. I’m curious to see what that study says. There are some partnerships with Pueblo West and the county to consider. … I think that anything should be open to negotiations. We shouldn’t just live with the decisions that were made in the past in how the county interacts with Pueblo West. Those are things I plan to get more into once I take office.
What advice do you have for other newly elected officials?
Keep an open mind. I think too often we go into office with a certain philosophy or the mentality of, ‘I’m going to solve all the problems based on a conservative thought process or a liberal thought process.’ Particularly at the county level, that won’t work. There are a lot of issues that go into that. No one philosophy has all the right answers. You need to examine every issue and try to come to the best solution as possible.
What makes Pueblo County special?
To me, it’s just always been home. I don’t know how else to express that. The time when I was deputy commissioner of agriculture I had an apartment in Denver and the office was out in Broomfield and everyone said, ‘You are going to go up there and love it,’ and I never got to that point. Certainly, the metropolitan area is a great community but it’s not Pueblo and the people I know here. I think it’s a special community. I think we have done some tremendous things here as far as the Riverwalk and investing in ourselves. But, we still need to do more. My eight grandkids and the two that are coming all live here in Pueblo. I want them to have the opportunity to decide if they continue to live here or not, and that means they have to have opportunities through employment.