In the late 1960s, developers in Corpus Christi, Texas, focused their gaze on a beautiful swath of beach that stretched in a crescent along several miles of the city's waterfront. They began to dream the developers' dream. They would bulldoze the sandy bluffs and build homes and condominiums and rows of restaurants, nightclubs and stores along the sparkling shoreline. In America, nothing says progress quite like pouring tons of concrete over a seagull nest.
But then a Corpus Christi woman with the name Jim Alice Scott heard of the plans. The developers had awakened a sleeping tiger. Or in this case, a sleeping mother and piano teacher. Scott, then in her thirties, hadn't been active in any social causes. But the thought of having developers run wild along the pristine beaches of her town jolted her into action.
She joined the Organization for the Preservation of an Unblemished Shoreline (OPUS) and led the drive to block the development. Today, along that curved stretch of Texas coastline, the dunes still stand against the wind and the seagulls still nest in the tall grasses.
And Colorado Springs is a better place because of it.
The name game
In 1971, a few years after the Texas developers lit her fuse, Scott and her newfound social activism moved with her husband to Colorado Springs. Here, amid a rising tide of turmoil and a looming wave of growth, she found her sand dunes and her seagulls.
During the past 32 years, Scott has spent 19 of them working for the city government, mostly as a public policy analyst. She has earned a master's degree and a doctorate degree, both in public administration. She has been the president or member of the Committee for Responsible Government, the Stratmoor Hills Neighborhood Association, the League of Women Voters, a citizen committee that made planning recommendations to the county Board of Health, the Clean Air Campaign, the Colorado Homeless Prevention association and the co-chair of the United Way Community Services and Planning Committee.
She has been given awards from more than two dozen agencies and organizations, including El Paso County and Colorado Springs, United Way, the Girl Scouts of America, the American Society of Public Administration, the National Council on Alcoholism and the Pikes Peak Mental Health Center.
All of which leads to the obvious question.
"My father's name was Jim and my mother's name was Alice," she explains with a big smile. "They both wanted to name me after them. They couldn't work it out, so I was named Jim Alice. And I've always taken great pride in carrying both of their names. I was so lucky to have such a wonderful childhood and such wonderful parents."
And how do people address her?
"Most people just call me Jim," she said. "Some use Jim Alice. And a lot of people really struggle because they just don't seem able to call a woman Jim."
Not that it's necessary, but making the name game just a bit more interesting is Scott's husband, a retired petroleum industry engineer who owned the Multifast copy and print business in our town for 20 years. His name is also Jim.
She calls him Jim. He calls her Jim.
George Fellows, Colorado Springs' city manager from 1966 to 1985 and Scott's boss for 19 years, calls her unforgettable.
Quite a hold
"She's has a very high level of dedication and has been very loyal to this city," Fellows said. "She had a high degree of integrity in everything she did for this city. Just think, she got her doctorate degree in public administration while working full-time for the city. And she used that education to help us."
Fellows singled out Scott's efforts during the 1970s to get an emergency medical service contract with the city, bringing ambulance companies, fire department officials, other city officials and hospital emergency room workers to the table to work out an agreement.
"Her interest was always the same: do what's best for the people," Fellows said. "She did such a great job because she always thought of the people first."
Today, in her 70s, Scott still volunteers with committees and organizations. She's trying to slow down, she said, but hasn't been real successful at it.
"There are so many people here dedicated to making our community a better place to live," she said.
And, she unflinchingly points out, there are others who don't seem, well, real dedicated to that goal.
"The city and county don't work together very well. It seems instead of cooperating, with the good of the people in mind, they compete against each other," she said.
An example, Scott said, is the same problem she faced more than three decades ago in Texas.
"We are obviously very heavy into development here without thinking about how to create a more livable city," she said. "Our city is getting less livable all the time. Our aquifers will soon run dry, and yet we keep building where there is no water. It's a terrible mistake to allow urban density in rural areas where the water resources can't support it. But we keep doing it. Developers have quite a hold on this place."
With the unbridled growth, of course, comes traffic. There are, Scott believes, no easy solutions. Neighborhoods must give way.
"We absolutely need to find a way to make ourselves less dependent on I-25," she said. "We need alternative ways to travel east and west, and we need a way to go around Colorado Springs. But because of the lack of planning and the growth, we really have to bite the bullet now to make an east-west roadway happen.
"First of all, city officials have to say that's what they intend to do, and begin the land acquisitions they need to build these roadways. It won't be popular with the people who own the land, but it's the only way our city can move forward."
As she talks about our city and the traffic and water problems, Scott slowly but surely comes to the biggest change of all. The city, she says, has lost its sense of humor. Its sense of adventure and joy.
And she doesn't hesitate long before taking aim at what she sees as the main cause.
"We have an angry type of intensity here now, an intensity brought on by the religious right and their point of view," Scott said. "Their point of view on so many things has really stifled our lifestyle. It is not a relaxed atmosphere anymore There's apprehension among our politicians that they must kowtow to the religious right to get elected."
For example, Scott cites Mayor Lionel Rivera's recent refusal to officially invite a national organization of atheists to the city.
"It goes to our incredible lack of tolerance," she said. "For the mayor not to give a greeting to a group because it has a different religious belief from the religious right, well, it was so ridiculous and so parochial that it was just plain embarrassing.
"The religious right has robbed our community of its sense of conviviality. These people can be so vindictive, and they have such great influence on our politicians. And the entire Republican Party has affiliated itself so closely with them, with Focus on the Family and Will Perkins and the rest of the anti-gay crowd; well, it's just embarrassing.
The end of the tolerant era was marked, Scott said, by the end of the tenure of former Mayor Mary Lou Makepeace last year.
"She has her own sense of values and sense of tolerance," Scott said. "She did not take on someone else's sense of values of tolerance just because it might get her elected. She, and a lot of others around here, consistently feel that tolerance and acceptance of other people and appreciation of other people is the way to live your life."
Time and courage
Change, Scott said, will come. It will take time, she said. And courage.
"The Democrats around here, and there are a lot, have to start being less timid," she said. "We have to stop being invisible. Those of us who remain silent are at fault.
"And the pendulum swings back and forth. Those of us who are here now must work for change. And I hope there will also be an influx of new people who will tire of the religious right."
On May 11, Scott was honored as the Community Builder of the Year by the Independence Community Fund, the charitable arm of the Colorado Springs Independent. She said the award, like each of the dozens she has received during her 32 years of service, makes her "uncomfortable."
"People who want to make this community a better place to live don't do it for the awards and the dinners.
"You do what you do because you believe what you believe."