Guest commentary: Looking back at nearly 20 years of communications in Pitkin County
After 20 years at the helm of community relations/communication for Pitkin County Government I’m using the global pandemic as an excuse to bid adieu to my government career and test the waters of retirement.
I began my career in Aspen in local media doing radio news off and on from 1978 until 1990. After stints at ACRA, the Aspen Skiing Co. and Climbing magazine, I began my second career at Pitkin County government in April 2001. A short five months into my new job I was involved in the local response to the 9/11 attack in New York City. The airspace all over the country was closed and there was a private jet near the airport whose pilot wasn’t immediately responding to calls from the tower to land immediately. I remember watching an F-16 fighter jet fly just above the private jet and gently force it to land at our airport and then swoosh away. You don’t see that in Aspen every day!
Other memorable events included our deployment to the Front Range after the disastrous flooding in 2013. It was shocking to see in-person and one of the most rewarding projects I’ve ever been involved with.
Influenza and other public health threats including West Nile Virus have been recurring themes over the years. We prepared for the worst during the Avian Flu (H1N1) pandemic in 2009 but dodged a bullet when it failed to reach national and global proportions we’re seeing today.
Probably the friskiest event I was privileged to manage on behalf of the county was the celebration for the reopening of the airport runway after a three-month-long closure for resurfacing in the spring of 2007. We invited the entire community to come out and roll all over the tarmac’s fresh layer of smooth asphalt with anything on wheels from wheelchairs and skateboards to tricycles and peddle cars. It was a rare post 9/11 treat to allow the public to roll through the terminal and out onto the runway with no pat-downs or onerous rules to follow.
Another fun airport project was collecting the voices of well-known Aspen locals and visitors to welcome travelers over the PA system in the terminal. In addition to the usual “please do not leave your bags unattended” announcements visitors were welcomed by the likes of local cowboys, movie stars, elected officials, Olympians and one notorious U.S. senator, John McCain. I got into a wee bit of trouble over using McCain’s voice in the terminal because shortly after we recorded it he started his campaign for the presidency. It appeared to some, including the national media who gave me a call, that by having McCain’s voice in the terminal Pitkin County was endorsing him for president. That was far from the truth and we quickly removed him from the lineup to comply with election laws.
My career with Pitkin County included a lot of ribbon-cutting ceremonies, one of the most significant being the 2018 dedication of new Pitkin County Administration and Sheriff’s Offices and Veterans Park in downtown Aspen. Other cool projects over the years include the purchase of Droste property for Sky Mountain Park during the recession of 2008. And underpasses — lots and lots of underpasses! Oh, and there was the ribbon cutting for the Healthy Rivers Whitewater Park with commissioners in a raft holding a giant pair of scissors slicing a river-wide red ribbon as they rafted through the waves.
I must admit the COVID-19 pandemic has taken its toll on county employees, myself included.
The amount of pressure and stress most of us in government have been under has been significant. We had to build websites overnight, answer questions we don’t have all the answers to, and provide data, information, and reassurance to our worried community. We are worried too and we are often the target of criticism for tough decisions we had to make, for not doing enough or doing too much. It wears you down.
The “up and comers” at Pitkin County government are now taking the helm and you’ll be in good hands as long as you continue to remain engaged and remain the ever-vigilant watchdogs that a great government and a unique community requires.
Approaching my 66th birthday in November, I am looking forward to some play time in the mountains, and dabbling in special communication projects of my choosing.
See you around, wear your facemask, and stay well.