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Cooperation for the win

County and city planning to work together more

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Jeff Greene (left), Henry Yankowski plan more cooperation. - J. ADRIAN STANLEY
  • J. Adrian Stanley
  • Jeff Greene (left), Henry Yankowski plan more cooperation.

When he was Colorado Springs' mayor, Steve Bach was known for sparring with City Council and for putting city interests ahead of regional concerns. He opposed a bill passed by the state Legislature to give counties a say in urban renewal projects that can drain county tax revenues.

And remember the November 2014 stormwater ballot measure? Both city and county officials worked for years to formulate the regional plan and funding mechanism, but when it came time for it to go to the ballot, Bach would only support a tax increase for city infrastructure. He wrote a proclamation opposing the regional measure, which failed miserably at the polls.

Newly appointed El Paso County Administrator Henry Yankowski says that he's relieved that he'll be working with Mayor John Suthers.

"He has a much improved bedside manner," he says of Suthers, with a laugh. "If you were talking about a doctor, who would you rather go to, Dr. Bach or Dr. Suthers?"

He adds, "I just think we're going to be able to work with [Suthers], quite frankly, better than with Steve [Bach]."

Suthers isn't the only one who will be easier to work with. Chief of Staff Jeff Greene is the exiting county administrator and someone Yankowski has worked with for years in his previous position as CEO of the Pikes Peak Regional Building Dept. In fact, during a recent breakfast at Springs Orleans, the two shared jokes and finished each other's sentences.

"He was one of the first people that reached out to me when I got here," Yankowski says of Greene, recalling their first meeting nine years ago.

Yankowski started his career as a land surveyor, and built a few homes in the 1980s. He held several positions related to development across the country, mostly in the South, before becoming the director of land development for Chattanooga, Tennessee. He was with Regional Building for about nine years.

Greene was with El Paso County for 14 years and was named county administrator in 2006. He served in the Army Reserves from 1991 to 2000, and held management and professional positions in the healthcare and insurance industries early in his career.

The two leaders' solid relationship has resulted in more than just entertaining breakfast conversation. Yankowski recalls working with Greene to lease an unused space in the Regional Development Center for the county's human resources, risk management and planning and development services in 2007. Greene recalls how Yankowski worked to help the county reduce costs when it was renovating the Sheriff's Office.

In fact, even the building they're sitting in required cooperation. Yankowski worked with the city Fire Department to allow Springs Orleans to keep its historic ceilings while ensuring that it wouldn't cause a safety concern if there was ever a fire.

That sense of collaboration is now flowing into their working relationship in their new positions, Greene says.

"If the county is in a healthy place, then the city is in a healthy place," he says. "And it works in the same way, if the city is in a healthy place, then the county is going to be in a healthy place."

Obviously, both men are in the beginning stages of making plans for how they will work together. But Greene says there will be plenty of opportunities.

"One of the first questions he [Suthers] will ask is, 'Is there a way we can work with the county on this?'" Greene says.

One example is animal control — barking dogs, aggressive animals. Animal control laws, Greene explains, are different in the city and county, which creates confusion. So the two governments are meeting to decide if the laws can be changed so that they line up with each other.

In another move, the city's Chief Financial Officer Kara Skinner and the County Budget Officer Nicola Sapp are working together to look for ways to streamline the collection of use tax, which is often confusing to businesses.

Other partnerships are being considered. The city and county want to see what emergency systems might work better combined, for instance evidence storage and the storage of other key records related to law enforcement.

Such an arrangement might ease the process of solving crime.

For instance, if a string of robberies took place in the county, and then similar robberies took place in the city, the current systems wouldn't link them. But a system that tracked both sets of records could connect the crimes and make the case easier to solve.

One area that seems ripe for cooperation is the economy. Yankowski says that when he was in Chattanooga, the city, county, military and utilities came together to turn a brownfield into an industrial park that attracted a Volkswagen plant — a major employer — to the area.

Yankowski argues that our county and city could do the same thing with say, a data center.

Greene chimes in that cooperative efforts like those have already been working. The city and county worked together to offer tax incentives to businesses with aeronautics connections that build in the Colorado Aerospace Park at the Colorado Springs Airport.

The aerospace company Sierra Nevada Corp. took advantage of that deal — and a few other lucrative incentives — and announced in February that it would open a subsidiary called Sierra Completions that eventually would create 2,100 jobs.

Greene says he'd like to see more successes like that.

In fact, he expects it.

"I think," he says, "we're getting ready to really blossom."

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