Beckman reflects on career

Posted 8/13/09

Susan Beckman is noticeably proud of the large photographic portrait of Santa Fe Drive — a gift from the City of Littleton — that hangs …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in

Don't have an ID?

Print subscribers

If you're a print subscriber, but do not yet have an online account, click here to create one.


Click here to see your options for becoming a subscriber.

If you made a voluntary contribution in 2022-2023 of $50 or more, but do not yet have an online account, click here to create one at no additional charge. VIP Digital Access includes access to all websites and online content.

Our print publications are advertiser supported. For those wishing to access our content online, we have implemented a small charge so we may continue to provide our valued readers and community with unique, high quality local content. Thank you for supporting your local newspaper.

Beckman reflects on career


Susan Beckman is noticeably proud of the large photographic portrait of Santa Fe Drive — a gift from the City of Littleton — that hangs prominently behind the desk in her county office.

Santa Fe is not the most attractive of thoroughfares traversing the South Metro area. But it is not the line of industrial buildings and occasional adult businesses that cause the Arapahoe County commissioner to think fondly of the roadway.

While a member of the Littleton City Council in the late 1990s, Beckman was instrumental in safety-minded expansions of the state highway. The road had previously been so plagued by fatal accidents that some had taken to calling Santa Fe the “ribbon of death.”

Beckman considers the city-county-state partnership that secured the federal funding for the improvements to be the genesis of the intergovernmental cooperation and regionalism that still mark Arapahoe County’s way of doing business.

Now a Republican commissioner representing the county’s western District 1, Beckman is the longest serving member of the full-time governing board. She was elected to her third and final four-year term last year after voters approved an extension in term limits for county commissioners.

During her tenure, Beckman has been among the county’s staunchest leaders in open-space preservation, having advocated for the county’s voter-approved open-space sales and use tax. She also co-founded the South Platte Working Group, an intergovernmental effort to beautify public areas along the South Platte River.

Colorado Community Newspapers recently sat down with Beckman for a wide-ranging interview.

CCN: Tell us the story behind the portrait of Santa Fe Drive.

Beckman: I had a tough race for city council. I was unknown. I ran against three other candidates who were pretty tied in. I walked Littleton and I kept hearing about this road because we’d had a lot of fatalities on it. I was on council for about four months when we had another fatality.

Littleton, at that time, didn’t really want to do anything about it. It was a state road. It wasn’t on the plan for 20 years. I called up the Littleton Independent and I just ranted on an answering machine about this road. It had so many fatalities.

Steve Ward who was a county commissioner, called me up and said, “You know what? Let’s do something different.”

Steve said, why doesn’t Littleton partner with the county — which had never been done — and let’s see if we can get this higher up on somebody’s radar screen. The media started to really pay attention to this because of the number of fatalities.

We got it moved up on the Denver Regional Council of Governments’ list, and in about 18 months, it was fully funded, federally through the state.

It was pretty unusual to have a road in a city be the county’s No. 1 priority at the Colorado Department of Transportation. That gave it a lot more focus in the region. We do that cooperation all the time now.

CCN: So that was precedent setting?

Beckman: I think it has led to how the county does business now. It’s not the money necessarily. It’s the synergy a project gets when you have more than one entity. Even then, there wasn’t a lot of money. You have to fight for these projects.

That’s when I got involved in the county and running for this seat [previously held by Ward].

CCN: Preserving open space, per the voter-approved open-space tax, is another issue that you have been particularly passionate about. Has support for open-space preservation been part and parcel to the changing face of the county? We are no longer the outer suburbs.

Beckman: Growth, especially the kind of growth we were having back in 2000, really was a motivating factor for the voters to support the sales tax at the level that they did. A lot of Arapahoe County is very urbanized. It’s very densely populated.

There’s a lot of feeling amongst the board and of the community that they want open space that’s accessible that they can use. We don’t buy open space for the land’s sake. We buy it for people. In Colorado, we’re so fortunate. We have 360 days of sunshine and people are outside a lot.

CCN: The county is now grappling with many of the more urban issues — open-space preservation, land use, mass transit, aging infrastructure — that are faced by Democrat-leaning Denver. Is there a connection between the increased interest in open space and Arapahoe County’s changing political demographics?

Beckman: Open space, to me, has never been a partisan issue. Arapahoe County was the last county to have an open-space program. We were kind of behind the curve on that issue.

Open space has always been very important to most of the area, at least from I-25 west, when you look at the Highline Canal and the river corridor, we have some amazing trails and open space in this community. Even for these nonpartisan city councils, it’s more of a quality-of-life issue.

But I know what you’re getting to. For me, I have to separate those two. The beauty of county government is everybody crosses over. We’re technically partisan, but most of the time you can’t tell who’s going to vote on what. And that’s how it should be.

CCN: How do you interpret the current party registrations in the county? For the first time, there are more Democrats than Republicans.

Beckman: The independent voter now rules. They vote not on the Republican platform and not on the Democratic platform. They’re in the middle and they say, “I don’t like either one of them enough to join. I’m going to vote on the person that has the same values I have. I’m going to vote on the issues.”

I believe you need both the left and the right to fly. Quite frankly, they’re both right on a lot of issues and they’re both way off base on a lot of issues.

What happened this year is you had a lot of newly registered voters and no matter how much you walked and how much you talked to people, there were still these voters that you could not connect to. When you have new registrations of big apartment complexes, they are looking at a name and a party.

CCN: Barack Obama and the Democrats?

Beckman: It was quite a wave. It was quite a movement.

CCN: You represent the county in the intergovernmental effort to reconfigure the intersection of Arapahoe Road and I-25. The project has hit a snarl in Centennial, where there is disagreement about where to put a new underpass that would divert traffic off Arapahoe. Some say the Alton Way proposal would take busy traffic into residential neighborhoods.

Beckman: I think it’s internal politics in the City of Centennial. But it doesn’t reach as far as the coalition. I’ve been very involved in this project. I can’t figure out why that was even presented. Honestly, I can’t. The coalition didn’t. In the original feasibility study, we didn’t go that far south [as Alton].

We’ve had so many meetings with businesses, citizens, community leaders. Once in a while, you get somebody who is upset about an issue. I think when it’s all done, we will all agree on what structure plan we move forward with.

We’re going through an environmental process and there are all kinds of parameters. You cannot legally say, “We’re not gonna look at Alton Way.” All options are open. We are at the very beginning of a $1.3 million project. So to make these assumptions, it’s just a little too early.

We’re trying to get money from the federal government and there’s not much money there. And to get this project done, we have to have a unified voice. It’s not right that emergency vehicles cannot get through that intersection.

CCN: Your district includes Littleton, Englewood and parts of west Centennial, among other areas. Is it ever difficult to represent such a broad range of communities?

Beckman: I am a fierce advocate for all of them and I have a good working relationship with all of the boards. It’s a lot of work because I do meet often with different council people on different issues. Different cities need different things. I have a lot of different cities and personalities to deal with. Sometimes you go head to head on some issues, but you work them out.

CCN: How has you experience on the Littleton City Council helped you in your role as a commissioner?

Beckman: It was a tremendous learning experience. The biggest difference is this government is very unfiltered. You get the information. You deal with directors from other entities in a very different way. In council, everything is funneled through the city manager. It’s a part-time job and it’s more policy oriented. At the county, we’re legislative, quasi-judicial and administrative. It’s the only elected position that is that.

CCN: Are you friends with your fellow commissioners?

Beckman: You can be cordial, but it’s not like your outside friendships — somebody I’d go out and have a beer with, somebody I’d go camping with. On every board I’ve ever worked on, that’s what ends up happening. It’s a good thing.

The important thing is that the decision you make is good. Sometimes you have to go through a lot of controversy to get a good decision, and it’s stressful. The worst boards are where everybody gets along and it’s all “Kum Ba Ya” because it’s group think.

CCN: This is your final term. What’s next for you?

Beckman: I’m going to get my master’s degree in public administration. I don’t know what I want to do.

You know, higher office is an interesting phrase. I don’t necessarily see being a [state] representative or a [state] senator as a higher office. They do policy, and in Colorado, they don’t have the flexibility that some state legislators have in the budget. This is a great job because you have the opportunity to do so much immediately.

I try to stay grounded by having my friends outside of work and my family. There’s yourself and your role and you have to keep those very divided. A commissioner is a role. It’s not really who you are. I’ve seen some people take it very hard when they’re not elected anymore, that people don’t call them back. Well, why would they?

CCN: You once said your favorite TV show is “The Office.” Any similarities there to county government?

Beckman: Oh, yeah. I think anybody that works in an office has seen those characters. It’s a pretty funny show.


Our Papers

Ad blocker detected

We have noticed you are using an ad blocking plugin in your browser.

The revenue we receive from our advertisers helps make this site possible. We request you whitelist our site.