When the Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance honored City Councilor Jan Martin with its coveted Athena award last week, it was an occasion for rejoicing among her many fans. The joy was tinged by sadness, though, since Martin's time on Council will end in less than a year.
In a Facebook post, Martin noted the anniversary.
"Woke up to find a note on my calendar that my one year countdown to being in office begins today," Martin wrote. "During my first campaign in 2007 I wrote a blog about what it was like to "run for office." During my last year, I want to write about what it's like to "serve in office." I hope you'll join me as I do some reflecting and hopefully encourage others to serve. It's an honor and privilege to serve, but as I've learned, you can go from being a hero to a villain in a matter of hours. I look forward to sharing my final year in office with you."
When Martin ran for an at-large Council position in 2007, four seats were in play, and four incumbents were running for re-election.
"There were nine candidates, and I was the only woman," Martin recalls. "Council had appointed Bernie Herpin to Richard Skorman's seat when he resigned, and people may have thought Bernie was not really aligned with Richard on some issues."
Martin led the voting. She joined an exceptionally experienced group, led by Mayor Lionel Rivera, who had easily won a second term. Tom Gallagher had earned a second at-large term, while grizzled veterans Larry Small and Randy Purvis would begin their third and fourth terms, respectively. All would join district incumbents Scott Hente, Darryl Glenn, Margaret Radford and Jerry Heimlicher.
"I saw myself as a reasonable, rational voice," Martin says. "I wanted us to break out of our conservative mold and do what's best for our city."
The city's problems seemed manageable. Although high-tech manufacturing was hemorrhaging jobs, strength in the military and nonprofit sectors kept the local economy reasonably buoyant. The "culture wars" that scarred the city during the 1990s had ebbed, real estate prices were climbing, and businesses were expanding. With any luck, Colorado Springs was poised for a decade of prosperity.
"I was so positive, and so anxious to make an impact. I remember my first vote," Martin says. "I'd been in office for two weeks, and the question before us was whether to make the Colorado Springs Diversity Forum a city event. The previous Council had deferred consideration, but we passed it. It was a sign that Colorado Springs would embrace diversity, and it's been such an important event ever since."
But before Martin's first term was half-done, a series of crises engulfed city government. The world financial crisis devastated city sales tax receipts and led to the collapse of the optimistically conceived retention package for the U.S. Olympic Committee. Ethics charges were soon leveled against Rivera in connection with the deal, and many residents were bitterly critical of the city's apparent mismanagement of the situation.
Dissatisfaction with Council increased as the recession deepened, forcing drastic cuts in city transit and other services. Streetlights were turned off, parks and medians went unwatered and budgets were slashed dramatically.
"I never envisioned that we would see the worst economic downturn in my lifetime," Martin says. "Everything changed. I remember sitting in those budget meetings, cutting hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars from the budget. It was so difficult to see programs that were so important to the city go, but we had to prioritize — and public safety had to be the first priority."
Martin agrees that the crises led to the voter-approved change in the form of government. Asked whether the present mayor-Council wars will continue indefinitely, Martin is surprisingly upbeat.
"Experience teaches us so much," she says. "In the last three years, we've elected a mayor with no experience and 12 new councilmembers. Everyone who runs for office wants to accomplish good things, and everyone learns that you can only accomplish things collaboratively. Give them time!"
And after 2015? Any plans?
"I really don't know what I'll do next," says Martin. "I'm sure I'll stay engaged — and who knows, maybe I've got one more act in me."