Sallie Clark said she didn’t choose to be a community activist. She was thrust into the role out of concern for her community.
What made Clark concerned was the prospect of Colorado Springs Fire Department Station No. 3, on Limit Street and Colorado Avenue, being closed back in 1997.
If that would have happened, she and her husband, Welling Clark, who have owned the nearby Holden House Bed & Breakfast Inn since 1986, would have lost their neighborhood fire station.
“When you get mad, or passionate, over something it’s time to get more involved,” said Clark, an El Paso County Commissioner since 2004. “You have to take an active role and help the decision-making process. A lot of people are afraid to speak up.”
A newspaper reporter showed up to a meeting of the Westside Innkeepers Association and asked about the station closing. Clark was quoted in the next day’s newspaper saying it was a bad idea and the next thing she knew she was leading the charge to save it.
“That catapulted me into being more involved in the neighborhood,” she said. “I coordinated and campaigned to save it.”
The experience was an eye-opener for Clark, who grew up with politically active parents but always thought she was too shy to run for office.
“I never thought I had the personality to get involved to the point where I am today,” she said.
She learned the political ropes by attending numerous Colorado Springs City Council meetings as it grappled with the public outcry to save Station No. 3.
Clark later ran for mayor but lost the race. She campaigned for city council and was elected in 2000.
“The world has just broadened so much,” she said, noting that even today she finds “the more you participate, the more you realize the less you know.”
In her leadership roles, Clark said she’s developed an ability to build consensus.
“I’ve worked through so many neighborhood and contentious issues, I now have the ability to bring people to the table to collaborate,” Clark said. “You just have to let everyone get out all their thoughts and feelings, then find commonalities.”
When she first became a county commissioner, issues like the El Paso County Courthouse expansion were contentious and sparks often flew at board meetings.
“I’ve found you can disagree without being disagreeable,” Clark said. “I try not to take things personally. … You try and put yourself in someone else’s place and see where they’re coming from.”
In an attempt to make the commission more effective and civil, Clark has worked to open county government to educate residents about what it does and encourage their participation. To that end, Clark helped form a citizen’s outreach group and citizen’s college.
“I think we have really reached out and done a good job of communicating our message and focus,” Clark said.
Much of Clark’s focus in recent years has been drawn to the El Paso County Department of Human Services and ensuring it gets enough money to handle its caseload.
“I feel I was put in this position for a particular reason: To advocate for children who can’t speak for themselves,” she said.
Clark said her foray into public service as an elected official changed her life by expanding her horizons and giving her the confidence to speak out. She hopes it also changed her community for the better.
By Dennis Huspeni