Voorhees reflects on his time on City Council
Glenwood Springs City Councilor Rick Voorhees is trading in his leadership role so he and his wife can relive the best part of their 20s.
The tongue-in-cheek description by the Ward 2 representative, 68, refers to seeking more flexibility to travel and spend time with family.
Their home is under contract, and they have already traveled to New Jersey to see his son and granddaughter. The couple also have a daughter in Santa Fe.
Voorhees moved to Glenwood from Littleton 13 years ago when his wife, Alice, got a job at Colorado Mountain College. Voorhees said they sold their Front Range house in 2009, and they moved to Glenwood permanently then.
Voorhees said he got the politics bug from his father, who became mayor of Sturgis, South Dakota, “just about the time the Sturgis [motorcycle] rally started to take off.”
Voorhees said a long week of Glenwood Springs council work for him was probably 25 hours, while a short one was 10.
Glenwood city councilors are paid $1,000 per month.
He is six months shy of finishing his first term, and the city is currently accepting applications until Oct. 16 for his replacement, who will be appointed for the remainder of the term.
Farewell to Rick
Voorhees announced at Thursday’s council meeting that it will be his last. Previously he had announced that the Oct. 15 meeting would be his last.
This prompted well-wishes from fellow councilors and staff.
Councilor Charlie Willman: “I’m going to miss your insight and input into the council.”
Councilor Paula Stepp: “You got the strategic plan done. Thank you for leading us on that.”
Councilor Shelley Kaup: “I’ve appreciated your wisdom and leadership and thoughtfulness.”
City manager Debra Figueroa: “You’ve been wonderfully supportive to all staff.”
Mayor Jonathan Godes: “You brought things before us way before they became popular, like mask mandates.”
Councilor Tony Hershey: “Whether you agree or disagree with another person you can’t fault someone for putting themselves in the public arena.”
While that last one doesn’t sound like high praise, Voorhees and Hershey have had an at-times contentious relationship.
What he’s proud of
Voorhees is proud of the work the city did to head off economic disaster during the pandemic.
“I’d give high grades for trying to minimize the impact economically,” he said. “We were able to help businesses in Glenwood with the grant program. … I think we did everything we could do with the dollars we had.”
He is also proud of the city’s leadership in the health aspects of COVID-19 despite the objections of what he calls “14%” of the residents.
“We were the first community to pass a mask ordinance. … It’s really helped,” he said.
Voorhees said that despite the city’s well-known need for street repair, council’s spending followed the direction from voters, which he said was the right thing for council to do.
“The Acquisitions and Improvements Tax vote and citizen survey that accompanied it in 2016 is an example of voters telling us the priorities they wanted and the council honoring that input closely. For the council to disregard the will of the voters by spending A&I money on streets — as some have suggested — doesn’t keep the the faith that the voters extended,” he said.
What he’s less proud of
Voorhees had a shortlist of City Council work he wasn’t completely happy with during his tenure.
“When we started to work on Seventh Street there was a feeling that we should keep the engineering specifications away from the public because contractors would use them to drive up the cost of the work. That didn’t sit well with my notions of transparency,” he said.
Then the bids came in lower than expected, and it ended up being “much ado about nothing,” he said.
What he would have focused on in the future
Voorhees said affordable housing remains an issue for the town.
“With the last round of price increases there’s not much chance that people are going to be able to purchase these homes that are on the market, and yet we have to find a place for people who work in the service industry to have affordable places to live,” he said.
Street improvements also remain a problem to be solved.
“Infrastructure will have to be addressed in the future,” he said. “The hard decisions are who and what are you going to cut to fix streets.”
Voorhees said futhering the city’s vision is a big enough goal to focus on.
“We have the strategic vision. It talks about quality of life, it talks about affordable housing, it talks about what does the community really want to be in five years. There enough action items there to keep a staff busy, a council busy and hopefully everybody in the community that wants to see good things happen,” he said.
Voorhees is enthusiastic about city staff, and keeping them on board would have been a priority for him as well.
“I’d keep those people in the saddle. I would keep them writing grants,” he said.
How he sees City Council
Voorhees had high praise for the council he worked with.
“This has been a very good council. It’s taken on a lot of stuff. There’s been a lot that was shoved our way and a lot we’ve gone after. I don’t see us as having lost any momentum in any of our decisions. … We haven’t always agreed but that’s a part of it. … Council’s in a very good place,” he said.
That said, Voorhees had a sometimes rancorous relationship with Councilor Tony Hershey, which boiled over during Thursday’s meeting. At the beginning of the work session with Planning and Zoning, Hershey questioned whether Voorhees was still a resident of Glenwood Springs in an email to Mayor Jonathan Godes copied to the Post Independent.
Voorhees sent a reply Friday morning, saying that Hershey’s concerns had prompted him to quit one meeting earlier than planned.
“I made the decision on the dais that last night’s formal meeting would be my last so as to not to feed the out-of-control behavior that distracts from other councilors’ efforts to grapple with serious issues facing the city,” Voorhees said in the email.
Good, bad or confrontational, Voorhees enjoyed his time on council.
“I loved it. It was a chance to maybe make a difference, a chance to exert some leadership. … We were able to do a lot of really good things for Glenwood that will last for a long, long time,” he said.
He also got to study human nature.
“It’s fascinating how people think and what they think about,” he said.
State of the city
Voorhees was upbeat about where Glenwood Springs is and where it’s going.
“The city’s in a good place. Between [COO] Steve Boyd and Debra [Figueroa] we’re in pretty good hands with some of the modeling and projections they’ve done about revenue,” he said. “Staff has been spectacular in looking out for the long-range interests of the town.”
He’s also impressed with the work city staff has done in securing the water system and acquiring grants.
“I’m really proud of the proactiveness I see in our staff. … I give Debra credit for hiring the right people and nurturing them,” Voorhees said.
Recommendations to new councilors
“I think future council members should be ready to put on an open mind to learn about the city and their constituents. We all bring pre-conceived notions of what can and should be done so it’s important to get a reality check about what actually is going on,” he said.
While council is a civic duty, it helps to understand that the seven members won’t be able to solve every problem, Voorhees said.
“It’s a high calling and a moral obligation to all the citizens in the town to show up and do your homework and do your best, and to have some fun doing it. … You can’t solve every issue, some things are intractable,” he said.
Voorhees said the government is not a popularity contest, and councilors have to do what’s right for the city.
“Future councilors shouldn’t be afraid of making hard decisions that aren’t going to make them popular,” he said.
Councilors should try to solve problems, not create them, he said.
“There’s no room for creating problems you’re not willing to solve,” he said.
Overall, he’d encourage anyone considering joining council to give it a try.
“I’d recommend it to anybody. You’ve got to have thick ribs for some of the criticism that comes along with the job. Some of it’s honest criticism, some of it’s misdirected, but it’s definitely a chance to get out in the public sphere, and listen to people,” he said.
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