Steamboat Springs Jim Engelken generally speaks in a levelheaded, calm tone, with a stable demeanor befitting a man who has worked for the same company for more than 30 years and lived in a tiny condominium for more than a decade while saving to buy his first house.
Not many things faze him.
But he can't hide simmering anger when discussing some actions of the current Steamboat Springs City Council.
"I'm very concerned about the direction this council is taking us. This is a very aggressively pro-growth council," Engelken said last week at his home on Pamela Lane. "They allowed Thunderhead to buy their way out of a height variance; they allowed Atira to tear down Ski Time Square."
Engelken, 51, is running for the two-year, at-large City Council seat, against landscaper Kyle Pietras. Engelken moved to Steamboat Springs in 1979 as a Safeway employee. He has worked at the grocery store since then and served on the City Council from 1995 to 2001. He served on a local water commission earlier this decade and was an original and longtime board member of the Regional Affordable Living Foundation, which began in 1998 and was the precursor to the Yampa Valley Housing Authority. Engelken's wife, Nancy, is the city's community housing coordinator.
During his years on City Council, Jim Engelken said, his chief accomplishments involved preservation of open space, "doubling the size of Steamboat Springs Transit and tripling ridership," and helping fund those projects and others through partnerships and a vigorous grant program.
Former City Councilman Ken Brenner served on the council with Engelken from 1997 to 2001.
"Jim, I thought, personified the true spirit of being a public servant. I never saw him do anything even remotely that gained any benefit for himself," Brenner said. "He consistently would reference our community plan and other planning documents, long-term documents, and their intent : and he was never afraid to tell us when we weren't headed in the right direction."
Engelken said plainly last week that in his mind, the current council is headed in the wrong direction - and that he and two other candidates this fall are seeking a change of course.
"There's a huge gray area between where this council is at and where a no-growth council would be," Engelken said. "I think you look at Kevin Bennett, Ken Solomon and me, and what we're looking at is a path down the middle."
As examples of his disagreement with the current council, Engelken cited development plans and action after the April 2007 purchase of Thunderhead Lodge and Ski Time Square, by Washington, D.C., real estate developers Cafritz Interests, for $53.9 million. The properties were demolished in summer 2008. In May 2009, City Council approved a Thunderhead development plan allowing two buildings more than 100 feet tall and 30 feet above code, in exchange for concessions including a $235,000 affordable housing payment from local developers The Atira Group.
At the time, attorney Paul Sachs, representing homeowners in the neighboring Kutuk Condominiums, spoke strongly against the deal.
"Instead of addressing your concerns, they've given you $235,000 to proceed in exactly the same manner," Sachs told the council.
Engelken said last week that he couldn't believe his ears when that deal was approved. Or when a previous City Council approved several variances for Howelsen Place in June 2006. Or when the current City Council ended the employment of former City Manager Alan Lanning in July 2008 and then, in September 2008, only narrowly rejected an ordinance that would have prevented the city from collecting an estimated $4.6 million in building use-tax payments. Or when the current City Council decreased the city's affordable housing regulations.
Engelken said a more moderate course is needed in city leadership.
"This community is a very moderate community politically," he said. "That's where the City Council needs to be."
Occupational therapist Liz Leipold said she has known Engelken since the early 1980s, through community and outdoor activities - and because she shops at Safeway.
"He's done many jobs at Safeway, in all different departments, and one of the things he does really well is he has always listened to the customers and the employees to provide the best service," Leipold said. "I know some of his greatest qualities are he's very honest, he's extremely organized, he has always had a passion for politics, and he's always had a passion for Steamboat."
Leipold said Engelken put a huge amount of time into his prior City Council service.
"He read and studied and researched every issue that came up. I saw him do it with those fat, those really fat books he had," she said. "He studied and researched issues independently."
Engelken brushed off the perception, held by some, that while he was on City Council his votes mirrored those of Bennett, who served as council president from 1993 to 2001. Engelken said that although he and Bennett "had some of the same concerns" on City Council, his own record stands alone and perceptions of mirrored votes don't affect his campaign.
"We're two different people, and we have different priorities," Engelken said.
Paul Stettner served on the water commission with Engelken. He agreed with Leipold's take on Engelken's attention to detail. That attention is needed to manage future local growth, Stettner said.
"He would make sure all the T's are crossed and the I's are dotted," Stettner said.
Linda Kakela, a former grants analyst and director of intergovernmental services for the city, said local bus riders have Engelken to thank.
"A major role that Jim Engelken played was in multi-modal transportation," Kakela said. "He represented council on a number of regional partnerships and went to state transportation commission meetings in Denver to demonstrate the council's political will."
Brenner said he supports Engelken's candidacy.
"I'm actually kind of excited to see Jim back. I don't think we've ever had a better City Council person," Brenner said. "Jim never wavered when it was time to vote. He stuck by his guns and his principles."