Newsmakers of the year
SUMMIT COUNTY – Those of us who spend our days and nights in the Summit Daily newsroom are constantly in touch with the personalities that shape our community.As our staff looked back on the past 12 months, two personalities rose above the rest in their degree of influence on the ways we all work, play and think in Summit County.State Rep. Gary Lindstrom and Summit School District superintendent Millie Hamner are our picks for Summit County’s 2004 Newsmakers of the Year.Lindstrom spearheaded Summit County’s smoke-free movement, which came to fruition on June 1, 2004, when smoking bans took effect countywide in all local bars and restaurants.The ban has been a hot-button issue ever since Lindstrom raised the idea more than two years ago, and the subject still finds its way into conversations at local watering holes and halls of government.The smoking ban touches the lives and lungs of virtually all who live in, work in or visit Summit County – whether they agree with it or not – and positions Colorado’s Playground among the most progressive communities in the state on the issue.Hamner, who took the helm of Summit School District in March, led the charge on a formidable quest for the hearts, minds and tax dollars of Summit County residents in 2004. She accepted the district’s top job in the midst of controversy, when the board terminated former Superintendent Lynn Spampinato’s contract.
Undaunted, Hamner aggressively campaigned to win back the public’s trust in the school district as a place where all the county’s children can grow and learn. Her perseverance and determination ultimately yielded success at the ballot box in November, when voters approved a bond issue and special mill levy that together will infuse millions into school facilities throughout the district.State Rep. Gary Lindstrom cleared the air, brought Summit’s voice to statehouseState Rep. Gary Lindstrom’s interest in smoking issues sparked 20 years ago when he himself kicked the habit.About two years ago, Lindstrom – then a county commissioner – raised the idea of a smoke-free Summit County in a column on the pages of this newspaper and launched the debate at a subsequent meeting of the county’s mayors and town managers.A local smoke-free grassroots movement was born, with Lindstrom at the helm, as dozens of citizens banned together to rid local bars and restaurants of cigarette smoke and its attendant health risks.A smoking ban question received strong support at the polls in November 2003, and bans took effect countywide in June 2004.”I couldn’t be more pleased,” Lindstrom said. “Summit County is viewed as a leader among counties in Colorado. We’re known to be more progressive and open-minded to change. Even though Colorado is a red state, Summit County, culturally, is not. And I think people appreciate that.”
Lindstrom said two key strategies saw the smoking ban come to fruition in 2004.”The first thing, strategically, is that you have to ignore people who tell you you can’t do it. Second, it has to be a grassroots effort. It’s not enough for an elected official to do something – you need to get people involved, speaking out, writing articles,” he said.Lindstrom’s political influence multiplied in July with his ascent to the statehouse. He was appointed to fill former Representative Carl Miller’s vacant seat, and then won his right to keep it in November when he defeated Republican opponent Heather Lemon.”The election was huge. It took a lot of time and effort. I owe that to Summit County in particular because of all the support I received here,” Lindstrom said.Lindstrom also counts the county commissioners’ ban of cyanide heap leach mining among his top accomplishments of 2004.”We have a greater responsibility in our area to protect our natural environment. That includes our air and water quality, our forests – all the things people come here to enjoy. We have to be very careful we don’t let up on those sorts of things, and I feel good about what we’ve done.”As Lindstrom looks ahead to 2005, transportation issues and the state budget crisis are high on his list of priorities.
Superintendent Millie Hamner made a push to turn the school district aroundIn March, when then-assistant superintendent Millie Hamner took charge of Summit School District, she was unbelievably, relentlessly optimistic.With an election looming only months away, Hamner held tight the reigns of an organization bruised by controversy after Spampinato’s departure.”I have just always been an optimistic person,” she said in an interview Friday, from her office, while she was technically supposed to be on vacation. “When things look gloomy, I try to find the bright spots. I think it’s all those years of working with children, being around that beauty and positivity.”Hamner made hasty work of stabilizing the district from the inside.”In a time when there had been that much change and transition – the whole district was at a very precarious place – I realized the first thing I needed to do was create a sense of equilibrium and stability. I quickly worked with all the principals and the administrative team to make sure people would stay, because many had been considering leaving.”The fact that the leadership was able to stay solid allowed the rest of the staff in the district to feel a sense of comfort and stability. And then the community started to feel it too. If people in the school district are not happy, the community feels that tension too,” Hamner added.
Hamner wasted no time laying the groundwork for the election campaign and giving the district a public relations makeover. She held open-door days, community coffees and public forums, wrote newspaper columns, gave radio interviews and stumped at just about every meeting of every organization and government body in Summit County.”I called it our aggressive communication plan. (District communications director) Karen Mason and I sat down, and I said, ‘Karen, we’ve got to turn this around.'”In November, Hamner’s efforts paid off as voters passed the special mill levy and a bond measure, allowing for major renovations to Summit Middle School, among other improvements throughout the district. The entire package totals $44.6 million.”It was a matter of pulling the organization together in a way that worked for the children of Summit County.”Hamner’s top projects for 2005 include improving the Hispanic graduation rate, overseeing the building projects funded by the bond measure, negotiating a new teacher contract and selecting a new Summit High School principal.”It’s not sufficient to become stable. We need to continue to grow. As a system, we want to look at what we’re doing well and continue to do those things. But at the same time, we need to be brutally honest about our failures so we can take on those challenges.”Julie Sutor can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 203, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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