Without a permanent workspace, Ken Jaray has spent his first few weeks as Manitou Springs mayor chatting with community members at City Hall, marking a spot with a simple paper sign that says "Office of the Mayor and City Council."
Jaray - who offers coffee and tea during "office hours" and has brought in a plant to make his makeshift desk more welcoming - was sworn in on Jan. 2 with a mission to ensure that citizens' voices are heard.
In November, the retired attorney and longtime community activist defeated incumbent Nicole Nicoletta with nearly 65 percent of the vote. He previously was the city attorney and has held positions with numerous community organizations and boards, including the local school board and chamber of commerce.
Jaray had a question-and-answer session Monday with The Gazette, touching on his goals for the small mountain community and the challenges that come with its growth.
Q: If you could accomplish just one thing during your time as mayor, what would it be?
A: Making sure that our community members feel that the government is transparent, inclusive and thoughtful.
Q: During your campaign, you emphasized a need for Manitou citizens to be more involved in decisions made by the local government. How are you working to achieve this?
A: We're bringing some people together, an exploratory group, to have the conversations about what our community expects in terms of really good community engagement and participation. We're following some guidance from Boulder. They just did an 18-month study about public participation and have a great report that we're hoping to use as a foundational piece for our exploration here . Community participation has been going for a long time. This isn't anything new. We're just trying to strengthen and build on what we've got.
Q: How do you prioritize issues the city faces now, including affordable housing, parking and aging infrastructure?
A: You can't really choose one and just ignore the others. You have to approach it in multiple ways. Fortunately, we have a lot of people that want to participate in each of those conversations. I think infrastructure is right up there on the list. We have so many projects going on that not only do we have to be careful about what we're doing, we have to be really thoughtful about how we're doing it and have the least amount of negative impact on businesses and residents. Right now, it's a pretty serious impact - everything we've got going on as you drive around Manitou in the cone zones. I think we have to be really careful of taking our business needs into account, taking the residents' needs into account. Those often conflict with closing streets and blocking off parking spaces and so forth.
Q: What are your thoughts on parking in Manitou Springs?
A: If we direct people, and let them know where there's available parking, I think that will avoid and reduce some of the congestion. And we haven't been doing a very good job of doing that. So we have an opportunity with our parking vendor, which is SP Plus, to engage in some or initiate some more innovative, creative solutions about how to identify where parking is available, how to get that (information) into people's hands while they're driving into town and direct them to places where they can park. ... We are talking about building some additional capacity, meaning some parking structures. There's a proposal to build one on the Wichita Parking Lot, and there's an effort just beginning to create some additional parking on the Hiawatha (Gardens) parking lot.
Q: What else would you like to get done during your tenure?
A: I'd like to make sure that we focus energy on environmental stewardship, on protecting the natural and historic assets that brought many of us to our community. As communities grow or as tourism grows, I think that you have to spend extra effort to make sure that the environment in which we live and the historical assets for which we're responsible are well-maintained and well protected.
Q: How would you describe Manitou Springs' identity?
A: We are in a unique natural environment that has a very diverse, creative, engaged population that cares deeply about the sense of place and the historic culture that we have inherited.
Q: Do you think legal, recreational marijuana has had a positive impact on the city?
Q: How so?
A: Well, the obvious is financial. We would not have been able to do nearly the number of infrastructure projects as we've done in the past couple of years without that. I think that (Manitou's retail marijuana shops) have become good city collaborators and supporters.
Q: Has legal, recreational marijuana had any unintended negative consequences in this area?
A: It depends on who you ask. I have not seen, nor have I been aware of, significant problems, as described by our police department, for instance. I know we have additional problems with transients and homelessness. I personally am not sure that's directly related to recreation or medical marijuana. It is an issue, but I don't know if there's a causal connection there. It's been reported that there are very few problems that can be directly attributed to the two retail stores that we have in Manitou.
Q: How is Manitou Springs changing?
A: Probably the biggest thing is the influx of visitors, both day visitors and tourists that come for multiple days. I think we've become more popular, which we have wanted to do... It's always been a tourist community, but as that segment expands, we have to make sure that we fully realize that we are a residential community as well. People live here. They came here for a certain reason - because we're a small town, because people can participate, because they can be involved. We have to make sure that we maintain that as we expand our tourism base.
Contact Rachel Riley: 636-0108