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Parting shots

Library director Jose Aponte closes the book on Colorado

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Outgoing library director Jose Aponte says his heart is in - Southern California. - SEAN CAYTON
  • Sean Cayton
  • Outgoing library director Jose Aponte says his heart is in Southern California.

Pikes Peak Library District Director Jose Aponte insists he's not running away from the challenges in Colorado Springs that he came to fight head on.

Instead, Aponte, who is leaving his post after two years, says he's going home.

Aponte has accepted a job as library director in San Diego County, Calif., a 32-branch district with 1.5 million customers. He'll trade his view of Pikes Peak for a life closer to his two college-age sons.

"Why does someone leave the best job he's ever had?" Aponte, 54, asked himself. "My heart is in Southern California, there's no doubt about that."

In the wake of Aponte's departure, some have wondered why a longtime Democratic volunteer and Latino community leader chose to land in staunchly Republican El Paso County in the first place. His own answer: the challenge of helping a community achieve progress despite its political wars.

"This is a community that has incredible potential," he said. "The challenge is that we put away our placards and our political postures and we sit down at the table and get ready."

Leaving the comfort zone

Tearing down political boundaries and leaving his "comfort zone" allowed what Aponte called his greatest achievement here -- helping to found a charter school for dropout students, a majority of them Latino, African-American or Asian.

He worked with local Republican school choice advocate Steve Schuck to start the District 11-financed Life Skills Center charter school last year.

"He is willing to abandon old preconceptions," Schuck said of Aponte.

As for his work at the library district, Aponte has overseen the expansion of four of the district's 11 branches. He says his biggest regret is not being able to witness the grand openings of two new branches, one at Briargate, which is slated to open in early July, and the other in Fountain, which is scheduled to open early next year.

Aponte's replacement has not yet been named. But the departing director flatly denies he is leaving because he's tired of Colorado Springs. If he were sick of this place, he said, he would have taken one of the jobs offered to him over the last year in San Antonio, Pittsburgh or Kansas City . He will collect roughly the same annual salary in San Diego -- $130,000 -- that he did here.

Meeting challenges

But if Aponte wanted to complain about Colorado Springs, he could. Since December 2003, the library district has been forced to fight a multimillion-dollar lawsuit brought by anti-tax activist and newly elected County Commissioner Doug Bruce.

Bruce claims that the library collected millions of dollars illegally after his Taxpayer's Bill of Rights became state law in 1992. Aponte said the lawsuit, if successful, would shave $4 million from the district's $20 million annual budget and force library closings.

So far, the library district has defeated Bruce in court, but Bruce continues to appeal.

"Doug Bruce didn't faze me in the least," he said. "We beat him and we beat him square.

"One of the challenges in the community is to realize he's a paper tiger," he said.

And not everyone Aponte has reached out to across the political divide has responded in kind. Aponte says he made an attempt to work with Colorado Springs-based Focus on the Family to no avail.

"I offered them a challenge," he said about the locally based national evangelical organization. "You find a charity that we both support, a charity that deals with substance abuse, women abuse, something we can all agree on. And I guarantee I'll gather an effort equal to yours and we'll come together around the table and raise money.

"They never called back," he said.

-- Dan Wilcock

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