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Skorman sees the light 

If he didn't before this, Richard Skorman understands now the meaning of mixed emotions.

Skorman, the civic leader and downtown businessman, left Colorado Springs City Council in early 2006 to begin what he calls "the greatest job I've ever had," running U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar's local office as regional director.

It looked like the makings of a long-term relationship, at least as long as Skorman wanted. Instead, at 55, he's moving on to a more imposing challenge: making Colorado Springs a national role model for clean, energy-conscious cities, helping the city to "live more within its means, which we haven't always done."

Skorman will join the locally based, ecology-minded Catamount Institute as director of a new program, the Pikes Peak Conservation Corps. He'll finish working for Salazar on Thursday, then start at Catamount on Friday.

Ann Oatman-Gardner, Skorman's longtime friend and activist ally, has been hired as his replacement, beginning in mid-January. Oatman-Gardner most recently has been a military planner for the Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments.

"This is a tough decision for me," Skorman says. "I would have stayed, and I wasn't looking for anything. I really enjoyed working for the senator, because I felt like I was able to do a lot of good, all behind the scenes," he adds, citing Fountain Creek and Pion Canyon.

Yet, having lived here since 1970, Skorman saw a city with obvious conservation-related problems and needs. And he knows the consequences of apathy, having grown up in Akron, Ohio, "where we smelled rubber every day and the Cuyahoga River was burning." Here, he saw a cause worth changing his life to embrace, "an idea that I've thought about for quite a while," and Catamount has provided the vehicle.

Skorman's goals for the new program are simple, huge and admirable:

Set up a corps of 10,000 people, each reaching out to 10 others "and helping them make choices to conserve energy and water, and to lower their costs for daily living."

Provide at least 1 million compact fluorescent light bulbs 10 for 100,000 buildings, including homes, offices and businesses to save energy and money.

Make enough of a difference that the city can put off or avoid building a coal-fired power plant now planned to be operational in 2014.

He doesn't have a timetable, because he knows "this will be a long-term process after this, we might plant a million trees."

He does, however, want to make one point clear: "This is not a debate over whether global warming is man-caused ... It's just an effort to save consumers money and make this city a cleaner, more efficient place to live and do business."

He sees this as a way "to cross boundaries and change our image; we've been branded in divisive, negative ways." Conservation, he hopes, will unite evangelical and secular groups, young and old, conservatives and liberals, military and students.

Beyond the light bulbs, the educational part will include helping families and businesses pursue such other options as programmable thermostats, power strips for TVs and other current-sappers, and insulated wraps for water heaters.

It all makes so much sense. But Skorman doesn't know of any other city that has turned to such a comprehensive, even door-to-door, grassroots strategy.

Also, if he doesn't take charge of making something happen here, who will?

There's another upside. While working for Salazar, it wasn't appropriate for Skorman to speak out on local issues. He adamantly says he's not using the Catamount position "to jump back into politics," and he insists the whole idea is to build new partnerships and alliances outside any other philosophical differences.

Yet, Skorman does admit, he now "can be public in ways I couldn't be when working for the senator. This will let me get my own voice back in certain ways."

That's the Richard Skorman who has cared so much about this city for his entire adult life. All he wants is to make life here as much better as possible for generations to come. And he's found the way to do just that.

Colorado Springs could be thanking him forever.

routon@csindy.com

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