Marc Snyder is bustling around his office in jeans and white sneakers, his graying curls slightly mussed from the effort of packing away a dozen years of public service. It is the day before his 55th birthday, and his final day as mayor of Manitou Springs.
Snyder, an attorney, spent six years as an at-large City Councilor for the city of 5,300 residents, followed by six as mayor. But on Jan. 5, he handed over his duties to newly-elected Mayor Nicole Nicoletta.
Due to a mix of circumstance and personality, Snyder's term was transformative for the town and, in many ways, the region. Before Snyder was mayor, Manitou dealt largely with local issues: the expansion of a hotel, renewal of the downtown streetscape or squabbles over limited parking.
Snyder certainly saw his share of those small-town issues over six years. But he was faced larger challenges like the Great Recession, the Waldo Canyon Fire, destructive floods and slope failures, the legalization of the Manitou Incline, the purchase of Iron Mountain for open space, the approval of recreational marijuana dispensaries and the reorganizing of city government.
Snyder says he hasn't addressed those issues alone.
"One of the things I probably get most criticized for is ... letting everybody speak [at a meeting]," he says with a laugh. "People are like, 'How can you let 30 people get up there and drone on and on?' But you know what? One thing I've found over the years is that having gone through that process, we get a better result. We have a lot of really smart people in this community, and they're our greatest resource."
Snyder is known for being active in the region. Among other activities, he has chaired the Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments board, chaired the Pikes Peak Regional Building Commission, served on the El Paso County Board of Public Health and served on the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority's board.
"I think I've earned my chops as far as being a fiscally responsible elected official," he says.
Now, Snyder says he's trying to decide whether to take yet another plunge in politics and run for El Paso County commissioner in District 3, where Commissioner Sallie Clark is term-limited. Six candidates, all Republicans, have declared a run. Snyder would be the first Democrat to enter the race, and, should he win, the first Democrat to win a Board of County Commissioners seat since 1970.
Not that Snyder is the type to shy from a challenge.
Manitou Springs isn't a "strong mayor" form of government like Colorado Springs, and Snyder's mayoral power was meager: He was one of seven votes on the Council. But ask those who worked with him — like Manitou City Councilor Coreen Toll, Commissioner Clark and former Colorado Department of Transportation Commissioner Les Gruen — and they'll tell you that Snyder was well-known in local, county and state government as the confident face of his town.
Gruen says by the time flooding was hitting Manitou, he already knew Snyder from serving together on the PPACG board. Because of that involvement, Snyder also knew CDOT's operational leaders, the very people he'd need to work with to get state money for road repair. "Having knowledge of some of the people and the processes had to have been a benefit, versus calling some number out of the blue and saying, 'Hey, I have an emergency,'" Gruen says.
For a town with a 2015 general fund budget of around $8 million, Manitou has been hugely successful at attaining grants. The flood mitigation project in Williams Canyon alone cost $6 million to complete in spring 2015. And it was one of many to be addressed by the town, which also plans to replace a damaged $3 million water pipe this year with grants.
Snyder says getting flood damage and mitigation projects done is one of his proudest achievements. Manitou has shown, he says, that "by hook or by crook you can find the local match money to tie down these grants and get these projects done."
"It's a matter of setting your priorities," Snyder adds. "And life-safety issues are always Priority One for us."
Larry Small, executive director of the Fountain Creek Watershed, Flood Control and Greenway District, says, "Everyone has great respect for Marc." But Small notes that the city was also successful in bringing in grants because of its hard-working and dedicated staff, and because Manitou citizens are engaged and willing to help with projects.
"Everybody works together over there," Small says.
Clark echoes that sentiment, recalling strong relationships with past Manitou mayors Marcy Morrison and Eric Drummond, along with many Manitou Council members. But since the effects of fires and floods became a massive issue during his time in office, she says Snyder's connections became crucial.
"Being an effective leader is about having those relationships built before you need to call on them," Clark says. "That's what Marc's been good at."
Handling a wildfire and the floods that followed will likely be Snyder's legacy, but that was hardly his only achievement in office.
After much controversy, Manitou approved recreational marijuana by public vote. Snyder and the Council still considered the naysayers when legalizing the dispensaries, setting strict guidelines. The result is that the concern around the region's only two dispensaries, both located on Manitou Avenue, has died down considerably, even as the dispensaries shovel about $100,000 a month of much-needed tax revenues into the town's coffers.
Toll recalls how Snyder took a stand on recreational pot, calling out the hypocrisy of opposing legal pot while alcohol is sold everywhere.
"That just plain took a lot of guts and strength and fortitude," Toll says.
The town was also able to expand its open space — a passion of Snyder's — and open the Incline. While the latter move has intensified parking issues, the city has been working to address that problem, which has vexed the town for decades. Among the fixes are downtown parking meters, resident-only parking zones, a shuttle that may soon run year-round and a large parking lot recently purchased by the city after long negotiations.
Meanwhile, during Snyder's time as mayor, the city has gone from just over $160,000 in reserve funds to around $1.2 million. The Council also agreed to restructure the city government to give the city administrator broader power, which, in turn, allowed the town to attract professional candidates.
Snyder says Manitou has been working to improve pay for staff positions to attract and retain better candidates. Some money for that has come from outsourcing certain services. The Manitou library, for instance, now is part of the Pikes Peak Library District. Police dispatch is run by El Paso County. The city gardener is a contractor.
While some of those decisions were difficult, Snyder feels like they ultimately allowed the town to meet its core responsibilities.
"Government is all about making the trains run on time," he says.
On that note, Snyder is still considering that run for county commissioner. He knows his affiliation will make that a challenge, but he says most of what commissioners do isn't partisan; it's problem-solving, which he's been doing for 12 years. Ever the thoughtful negotiator, Snyder adds that more political diversity could bring more attention, and state dollars, to the area.
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