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This November, Wheat Ridge Mayor Joyce Jay, who had been on the city council since 2009, and mayor since 2013, was term limited, and stepped down. While her Monday nights just got a lot more free, the opposite is true for her successor — Bud Starker.
We met with Starker recently, and talked with him about how his childhood shaped his present, and how the city’s mayoral position, though it does not often cast a vote, is deceptively powerful.
You’re a carpenter and a restaurant owner by trade, but you have a political science degree from CU Boulder. What was your journey to where you are now?
“My original career track was to go to law school. I graduated in 1972. I had worked in construction work during college, and did that for a year after graduation, then traveled for a year in South America and Mexico. When I came back home and figured carpentry was a good way to make a living.
I’d lived overseas as a child and was interested in civics and seeing how people interact and get together, or don’t. It’s a good background. My dad was in the Air Force, so I lived in Houston, lived in the deep south, lived in Germany in the 50’s and graduated high school in Tehran.
Looking back at my childhood, it’s interesting to realize some of the things you saw or came into contact with ... they don’t come into context until later.
You’ve probably worked on your share of rooftops. What is your take on the May storm that hit Wheat Ridge so hard?
The thing about that storm, it was the severity and the extent that it came through town and really unloaded on everybody. It wasn’t only roofs, but cars and trees and landscaping and windows and siding. It was a very disruptive storm that took a lot of work, a lot of labor to set right. It really took a lot of extra resources to set right.
The city’s Urban Renewal Authority and Community Development Block Grant program have had their critics. How do you best sell the potential of these programs?
I think you need to look at the development public sphere and the extent it extends into the private sector are best viewed as a cooperative collaborative venture.The best of those ventures feature honest communication. If you’re talking to your community members it’s important to clearly frame the issues, and the opportunities they have to comment on the process. Shape and reshape — continue to refine the project and the product you want to end up with. It’s important everybody feels listened to in the process. That’s because we all share a common desire to create a better quality of life for our community.
In the wake of court rulings that have said ballot issue 300 was unconstitutional, what if anything would you like to see the Urban Renewal Authority and the city do differently?
Well the state legislation sets URA mandates and responsibilities. In the context of the city’s implementation, I’d like to see a more robust outreach so that people early on can understand that the tools that the urban renew authority can use, and how it can affect them.
It may have been healthy for our community to go through the 300 process, and see how it played out. It holds lessons for all of us.
In Wheat Ridge, the mayoral role is weaker than it is in some surrounding cities, in that you don’t often have a vote, mostly just conducting the meetings. How do you feel you can best preside in that role?
In a lot of ways, being the public face of a great city is a very powerful position.
I’m really excited to have a role that has the parameters that the (city) charter provides. The “chief executive” role in the city may be a ceremonial role, but I think it’s advantageous to view it as a position of leadership.
The tenor you bring, and the structure and rules you can bring to the process are important so that everybody feels it is fair, and everybody was heard.
I’m humbled and honored to be elected.
What do you bring to the role of mayor that might be different from former mayor Joyce Jay?
I’m hoping I can use my background in construction and construction management to maximize the value that our citizens are investing in their future.
I’m hoping we can really shape projects that are the types that people want, with top quality design, good materials. I hope they seem forward thinking, that in 30,40, 50 years from now people look at them and say, “those were good projects. I’m glad we invested in the community to build those.”
The Fruitdale Lofts are a good example of that kind of thinking.
The future of Wadsworth is tied closely to the future of the city. What are you thinking about working with CDOT about the renovation plans for the road?
I hope that we come up with a good plan about how it’s conceived and built in the field. And also, that we’re able to communicate clearly the phases of construction, and how businesses and traffic will be able to work through the construction process.
We need to be up front with ourselves that it will be a disruptive process, and do everything we can to ameliorate the downsides of this.
You served on the State Board for Architects, Engineers and Professional Land Surveyors. As part of that position, you had to conduct some disciplinary hearings. What was your toughest case?
I think it was probably the C-470 and I-70 beam collapse (2004).
CDOT is a large and very well run organization, but it taught me that everything you do needs to safeguard and provide for the safety and welfare of the citizens of the state of Colorado. We needed to take some action against some of the leadership at CDOT to make sure they understood that message. The attitude has to flow through the whole system. That’s a lesson that translates into what, I hope, we bring to our own city staff.
Wheat Ridge’s mayor only casts a vote to break a tie on city council. What was it like casting the deciding vote the first time?
I don’t know if they thought “we have to get this guy in place or he’s going to bolt,” or what, but they swore me in six days after the election.
That night, there was a 4-4 tie for naming the mayor pro tem between Zachary Urban and Tim Fitzgerald.
Both had just been reelected. I think both gentlemen are well reasoned and qualified for the position, but just felt the time was better for Mr. Fitzgerald. I hope Mr. Urban will seek that position in the future.
What do you foresee for the city council?
Our council and perhaps our city has had a history of being contentious.
I see that paradigm as shifting. There’s real work on council to try to be critical and cooperative. We’re all looking to make good decisions on good developments. There may be some dissention out there about particular projects, but I don’t think it will be hugely divisive.
I think people on council understand that Wheat Ridge is transitioning from a bedroom community to being a geographic and lifestyle leader for the metropolitan area.
People look at that as an exciting place to be. One of the keys to make use of that future potential is to maintain that small town charm, that cohesiveness we have here.
What does “small town charm” mean to you?
I think it’s to foster growth commiserate with that of a small town scale. We’re going to be dealing with primarily brownfield, infield development.
We’ll need to keep development lower in scale, more pedestrian in scale, and cater to commercial goods and services that are well thought out and desired by our community and support our local merchants.
I did it as a businessman, I took my funds and invested it in a restaurant, reinvesting in my community because I wanted to be here. My dad moved all over, but we’ve lived in Wheat Ridge for 42 years and I found this a great place to be.
I think a lot of people in the nation might be looking for a place to put down roots, find a place where you can participate in community life.
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