Our View: Engelken served community well
July 7, 2010
Steamboat Springs — A working-class man who sought to represent working-class Steamboat Springs, Jim Engelken had an admirable record of civic service here that came to an end Tuesday night at Centennial Hall.
Elected to a two-year at-large City Council seat in November, Engelken announced his resignation last month so he can to move to the Front Range with his family. Engelken's wife, Nancy, is the executive director of Housing Colorado, a Denver-based nonprofit organization that provides affordable housing services across the state. The couple has a 4-year-old daughter, Elisa.
A brief celebration was held in Engelken's honor before Tuesday night's council meeting. It was a well-deserved tribute to a man who never shied away from a principled stand on the issues he was passionate about. From affordable housing to transportation to growth and development, Engelken's time in public service was marked by hard-earned respect from those who often found themselves on the other side of the table.
Kathy Connell served on the council during a portion of Engelken's first stint in elected office from 1995 to 2001. They disagreed often, but Connell said she gained tremendous respect for Engelken in the process.
"Even though I didn't vote with him all the time, what I loved about Jim is that whatever he did, he studied it hard," Connell said Tuesday. "And he believed passionately in what he did."
Engelken, who moved here in 1979 at the age of 20, spent his entire career at Safeway. He retired last year.
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"He always looked after the little guy," Connell said. "You need that kind of voice and diversity to have a balanced council."
Engelken served on a local water commission in the early 2000s and was a founding and longtime board member of the Regional Affordable Living Foundation. RALF was formed in 1998 and was the precursor to the Yampa Valley Housing Authority. That passion for affordable housing and helping working-class residents attain homes in Routt County is one Engelken shares with his wife, whose previous position was as the city's community housing coordinator.
In the 1990s, Engelken and his fellow council members were instrumental in preserving open space for the community, as well as dramatically improving local transportation options and services, particularly through Steamboat Springs Transit.
Engelken wasn't afraid of a fight if he felt it was for a just cause. How many other community members would be willing to go toe to toe with Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. because of a lift ticket tax? That fight in him led him to seek another term on council last fall. Engelken wasn't shy in his displeasure with the direction of the previous council, which he called "very aggressively pro-growth." He was critical of decisions like allowing height variances in Ski Time Square, decreasing affordable housing requirements and dismissing former City Manager Alan Lanning.
He went on to win 56 percent of the vote in November's election.
"He challenged people, and that's why I loved him," Connell said.
The council now is tasked with finding someone to fill his shoes and the remainder of his term, which expires in November 2011. Three people had applied for the position as of last week — Kevin Kaminski, Rich Levy and Kyle Pietras, Engelken's opponent in November's election. Interested residents have until July 15 to turn in their applications. The council plans to appoint Engelken's successor at its Aug. 3 meeting.
Two weeks ago, City Council President Cari Hermacinski said she hopes the council will have a unanimous vote to appoint Engelken's replacement. More important than a unanimous vote, we hope the council carefully reviews each applicant and appoints someone who offers diversity of opinion and perhaps even regular opposition to the current council majority. The council and its constituents are always better served by thoughtful discussion and disagreement on important community issues. The absence of dissenting opinion hurts public policy.
Jim Engelken deserves the thanks of the community for his tireless efforts on its behalf throughout the decades. The council should honor his contributions and the will of the voters last fall by appointing a successor who, like Engelken, will represent a different political ideology.