State EDC: Closer look at RTA’s deciders

Who’s the decider? When it comes to the four projects chosen by Colorado Springs to receive potential funding under provisions of the state Regional Tourism Act, it’s not Mayor Steve Bach — nor is it the City Council, or the Board of County Commissioners, or Bill Hybl, or even “Mr. (Philip) Anschutz.”

The fate of the city’s application for funding will rest with the nine-member Colorado Economic Development Commission.

According to the website of the Colorado Office for Economic Development and International Trade: “The Colorado Economic Development Commission (EDC) was created by the Legislature to promote economic development in Colorado. It consists of nine members, five of whom are appointed by the Governor, two by the President of the Senate and two by the Speaker of the House.

“The EDC approves loans and grants from the economic development fund to public and private entities throughout the state. The EDC has oversight for the Regional Tourism Act. All policy and funding decisions are made by commission members.”

So who are these people? And how are they likely to vote?

Dick Monfort, chairman

 

Monfort, a Colorado native, spent 25 years in his family’s cattle business before and after it was sold to ConAgra in 1987. He’s now owner/chairman of the Colorado Rockies, as well as chairman of the board of directors of University of Colorado Health, which recently acquired Memorial Health System in Colorado Springs. It’s widely believed that the Rockies would like to see their Triple-A farm club (the Colorado Springs Sky Sox) move into a downtown stadium that would better replicate conditions at Coors Field.

Such peripheral financial considerations are unlikely to affect Monfort’s vote. He’ll be swayed by the project’s core supporters, Phil Anschutz and Bill Hybl, and by the perceived quality of the submission.

Yes.

Darius Allen

Allen’s not a show-off. Here’s his complete bio, as it appears on the EDC website: “Darius Allen is from southern Colorado. He has served four terms as a county commissioner, ranches and owns an insurance company.”

He’s also a tough guy who got into a minor altercation with “a self-appointed community watchdog” who called him a liar at a commissioners’ meeting a few years ago. Allen went after the accuser, and both parties were charged with misdemeanors by the district attorney. He’s in his fourth term as an Alamosa County commissioner, which suggests that he’s a lot like former Springs Mayor Bob Isaac — independent, prickly, smart and judicious.

Will make up his mind on the merits. Not likely to be swayed by eco-devo speak.

Neutral.

J.J. Ament

Ament, an investment banker, is the former director of public affairs at the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce. He claims to have “organized and directed the successful campaign to add light-rail along Denver’s I-25 corridor,” and to be active in “many charitable and civic organizations.” He’s a former chairman of the Colorado Municipal Bond Dealers Association. A Republican, he ran for state treasurer in 2010 but failed to get the party’s nomination.

His background in economic development, municipal bond sales and Republican politics suggests that he’ll be inclined to support the city’s proposal.

Yes.

Millete Birhanemaskel

Birhanemaskel, a Gov. John Hickenlooper appointee, is a relative newcomer to the board. She’s currently a partner at PB Advisors, where she manages investments and is a strategic financial planner.

Prior to becoming a licensed adviser, Birhanemaskel was a reporter for six years. Her first job after graduating from Colorado State in 2003 was at the Greeley Tribune. Highlights of her career include covering the election of Africa’s first female president, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf in Liberia, as well as being awarded Journalist of the Year by the National Association of Black Journalists Region IV. She was also named in the Denver Business Journal’s “40 under 40” list in 2010.

She’s clearly a rising star in Denver, and likely one with powerful mentors. Otherwise, she wouldn’t be on the EDC.

Qualified yes.

Howard Gelt

Gelt is a major Denver power player, the go-to guy for almost everything — especially where Democratic politics are involved. A senior partner with Polsinelli Shughart, he specializes in commercial real estate and corporate law. He’s a past member of the state Transportation Commission, chairman of the Coalition for Smart Transit, was a member of the transition team for Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, and was one of Colorado’s Super Lawyers for 2008, 2009, 2011 and 2012.

Gelt is smart, skeptical, knows everybody and owes no one.

Qualified yes.

Chuck Murphy

Is Chuck on board? He is this area’s only EDC member (thanks to being appointed by Senate President John Morse of Colorado Springs, who faces a Republican-led recall election on Sept. 10). Given Murphy’s downtown property interests, he might have to abstain from voting on the RTA proposal, but he’s still the key to the deal.

The local businessman has restored and renovated iconic buildings in Colorado Springs and Manitou Springs. He’s operated Murphy Constructors for 50 years and has served on numerous important boards. He’s Mr. Colorado Springs for every Denver Democrat. With his enthusiastic support, the EDC may well approve the application in some form. Without it … well, let’s not go there.

Yes.

Dwayne Romero

According to his bio, “Romero is president of Related Snowmass, a division of New York development and investment firm Related Cos., and manages a portfolio of commercial and lodging properties in Snowmass Village. Previously, Romero served as executive director of the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade. A graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, Romero served in the Army for seven years, both stateside as a planning and operations officer for the Corps of Engineers, and in a combat leadership role in the Persian Gulf War. His efforts earned him a Bronze Star for leadership valor. Romero earned an MBA from Harvard Business School.”

Most commission members have some experience with economic development, but much of Romero’s career has involved the nuts and bolts. Given his experience, he won’t have to rely upon EDC staff to interpret the numbers.

Qualified yes.

Bill Sisson

A Grand Junction resident, Sisson retired four years ago from his position as senior regional president at American National Bank. He spent much of his career in banking on the Western Slope, serving as president of American National Bank in Grand Junction and as president/CEO of Bank of Glenwood/Colorado National Bank.

The city’s job is to convince nine smart and successful people that the RTA application should be funded.

Sisson is a former chairman of the state EDC and of Club 20, a powerful business advocacy group for Colorado’s Western Slope. After serving in the Army, Sisson graduated with a finance degree from the University of Denver.

Bankers look at numbers, so expect Sisson to be sympathetic but skeptical.

Qualified yes.

Teresa Taylor

Taylor describes herself as “a visionary telecom industry executive who leads by example, finds opportunity for change and strives to consistently create value. As CEO of Blue Valley Advisors LLC, Taylor advises companies, government agencies and other endeavors on vision, strategy, operations and public affairs.”

Taylor previously worked 23 years for Qwest, retiring as COO. She’s served on a number of boards, including the Colorado Symphony Orchestra and the Denver Botanic Gardens. Her background in information technology sets her apart from other board members. She’s also recently published “The Balance Myth,” a book about women in the workplace. If any EDC member raises questions about process and community buy-in, it’ll be Taylor.

Qualified yes.

Ken Lund, OEDIT executive director

Lund’s official bio says it all: “Ken Lund joined Gov. Hickenlooper as Chief Legal Counsel before taking the helm at the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade in August 2011. He was with Holme Roberts & Owen in Denver before joining OEDIT. During Lund’s 11 years as Managing Partner at Holme Roberts & Owen, he took a lead role in building and supporting the firm’s growth. … Lund previously served as a board member for the Metro Denver Economic Development Corporation and the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce. Lund currently serves on the Board of Directors of the Metro Denver Sports Commission.”

Lund’s job in this role is to facilitate, not advocate. He’ll make sure that the staff provides accurate, unbiased information to the commission.

Neutral. Lund isn’t a voting member.

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In the end, Colorado Springs’ job is to convince nine smart and successful people that the application is worthy. For advocates such as former Colorado College President Dick Celeste, UCCS Chancellor Pam Shockley-Zalabak and Mayor Bach, one thing should be very clear.

They’d better bring their A-game.