Our appointment was scheduled for 4 p.m. last Friday. By 3:30 it was snowing heavily, roads were slick and treacherous, and any sensible city bureaucrat would have canceled an hour earlier. Not Aimee Cox.
She arrived at a downtown coffee shop, having walked six blocks from the City Administration Building. Face flushed from the cold, fur cap covered with snow, she was cheerful and upbeat.
"I'm sorry to make you trudge through the blizzard," I said apologetically.
"It's actually really nice out there," she replied.
She meant it. Cox, 43, radiates delight in her life, her job and her latest assignment: fighting homelessness in Colorado Springs.
Cox has worked for the city more than 10 years. She served two years as the first City Council administrator. Before that, she was a grant writer and project manager. That may not sound like such a big deal, but here's what Mayor Steve Bach said when he promoted her last May to senior economic vitality specialist:
"During her tenure with the city, she has secured over $9 million for parks, open spaces, trails, recreation programs, and historic preservation projects, managed open space acquisitions, planned for local housing and recreational amenities and leveraged innumerable community partnerships to improve service delivery and enrich the region's quality of life."
Along the way, Cox served a term on the Manitou Springs City Council (including two years as mayor pro tem), was a member of the Cultural Office of the Pikes Peak Region board, and chaired Manitou's Parks Advisory Board.
When Cox jumped from working for Springs City Council to working for the mayor, it wasn't a political decision. She may have been less than delighted at the prospect of working with six headstrong rookie councilors, but she saw an opportunity to create and lead projects that could make a difference in people's lives. It's no accident that now she is leading Bach's fight against homelessness.
Cox grew up poor. She knows what it's like to be trapped in the cycle of badly paid jobs, sketchy places to live, and no obvious way out. She worked hard, got an education, got married, divorced, married again, divorced — and then she was a single mother with two kids. She figured it out, and then some.
Cox is the linchpin of the city's homelessness initiative (see here). She will have to secure the grants, work with existing providers to plan and implement the effort, and construct the political architecture that will enable it to go forward.
In the past, efforts to expand the existing shelter network and provide a day center have foundered due to neighborhood opposition and disunity among providers and local governments. Can Cox succeed in such a difficult endeavor?
For starters, where will the day center be located?
"That's not a decision [that the city will make]," said Cox carefully. "We'll work with existing agencies, and let them decide."
Her goal, clearly, is to depoliticize the process. The politics of inaction don't much interest Cox, and she has little patience with those who don't do their homework.
"Talking with new councilors, I would ask them what they wanted to accomplish, what they wanted to work on," she said, "and they would say, 'Parks.' And I would ask, 'What about parks? Do you want more? Do you want money for parks watering? Open space?' And they really wouldn't know."
Cox is passionate about this project.
"What we want to do," she said, "is to provide a path from crisis to stability. We know we can't end homelessness, but we can mitigate it and not have it be a permanent condition in someone's life."
At the Jan. 29 announcement of the initiative, alongside the mayor's wife Suzi Bach, Cox didn't resort to bureaucratic evasions. While the official fact sheet used the passive voice, stating that "at least $5 million can be made available over the next two years," Cox unequivocally committed to raise $6 million.
"I was talking to one of the guys at the shelter yesterday," she said. "He said, 'Miss Aimee, if I'd had someone like you in my life, I wouldn't be here today.'"
Cox was touched. And if she has her way, thousands of people in the Pikes Peak region will have Ms. Aimee in their lives, whether they know it or not.