Taylor looks back on years of service
As Jim Taylor approaches the end of his time on Littleton City Council, he’s reflecting on 45 years of public service.
“There’s been a lot of success in my life, and a few disappointments,” he said. “Maybe there still some out there. … It’s been a privilege to represent the city on so many levels, the city, at the state and nationally. And I don’t want to be egotistical, but I think that anybody I’ve served with in whatever capacity would tell you that I come to meetings very well prepared. I read everything, and generally I’m not afraid to speak out. I have thoroughly enjoyed what I do, and I tell people that all the time.”
Taylor’s resume is longer than a child’s wish list at Christmas. He was first elected as the city of Northglenn’s treasurer in 1969. Two years later he was running for the city council there against an incumbent. A lot of people thought he would lose that race so wrote his name in as a candidate for treasurer; he won both. That spurred state legislation that prohibited anyone from serving in two elected positions at the same time, but he got to serve two years in both seats.
After he and his wife, Ginny, moved to Littleton, he was elected to council first in 1977. He’s served either there or on the South Suburban Parks and Recreation board of directors, also an elected office, pretty much ever since. At the state and national level he’s held many positions on the National League of Cities, the Colorado Municipal League and the Denver Regional Council of Governments. Locally, he’s served on the Littleton Housing Authority, Arapahoe County Early Childhood Council, Riverfront Urban Renewal Authority, Friends of the Library/Museum, Littleton/Bega Sister City Exchange, Historic Downtown Littleton Merchants and many more.
Taylor, who retired as a principal in the Sheridan School District, has come a long way from his humble beginnings.
“I came from a very small, one-room school in Texas, and Texas had a law that you had to have 21 students to have a school district,” he remembers. “We dropped below that, and we had to consolidate with another town. I rode 20 miles on the bus. I graduated from high school one of nine students, and eight of them were girls.”
Met wife on blind date
After graduation, he intended to major in architecture. But his family’s finances were limited, so he wound up with a teaching certificate. But first came love.
“I met my wife, Ginny, on a blind date,” he said. “Our friends introduced us on Valentine’s Day in 1963. … Five weeks later we decided to get married, but we didn’t get married until the end of July. I won a National Science Foundation scholarship to study advanced math in Oklahoma for five months. … I knew after the second date. It’s just one of those things. I knew she was the right person for me.”
They were married 37 years and had five kids who gave them 10 grandkids.
“We insisted on our kids going to Littleton High School, because it’s got such a diverse population, and that’s what they would see in life,” he said.
Although Ginny died of cancer in April 2000, his affection for her remains fresh on his face.
“She was in in-home hospice, and I stayed home with her 24/7,” he said. “The nurse said, ‘We’re going to put her in a center, because you need some rest.’ I said, ‘I won’t do that.’”
Taylor credits his success at least in part to that same dedication to his job.
“I talk about exactly what I believe in,” he said. “When I got elected to council in 1977, I had some strong opposition. I was invited to a victory party, and I overheard two women saying, ‘Who’s this guy? He’s not one of us.’ I liked the fact that I’m not one of ‘them,’ but I got elected. That could be the rebel in me, I don’t know. … Five times I ran, and three were unopposed. So people must like what I do, or at least have no objection to it, I guess.”
One of the things that originally spurred Taylor to run in Littleton was the location of his house, in the Bow Mar neighborhood west of the South Platte River.
“The railroad depression divided the city,” he said. “We couldn’t get ambulances and fire trucks across the city. There were 120 trains a day at that time. … It was blocked a lot, and we couldn’t get people from one side to the other. The long-lasting effects of lowering the tracks were that it allowed us to become a unified city, and one of the things I first ran on was a real feeling that the west side was an orphan. They didn’t feel they were getting good services and recognition, and I hope that in my 20 years on council, I’ve helped change that. Light rail was just a secondary event, because somebody was smart enough to fit it in there. I think the unity was more important than light rail.”
Advocate of growth
He’s often championed the idea of encouraging growth in the city.
“The biggest disappointment was when we had the opportunity to annex Highlands Ranch, and we didn’t,” he said. “It would not look like it does today. There would be a little more open space, and not be quite so dense, I don’t think. You never can predict, but that would probably have translated into we would have Sterling Ranch now. And this desire came from my experiences in Northglenn. In 1969, the cities of Thornton and Westminster had surrounded Northglenn so it could not grow. It was landlocked almost from the very beginning, and you begin to see the deterioration when you can’t grow. … I would push for growth having seen that.”
Related to that, he wished council had not accepted a deal with Denver Water that, in exchange for about $2.6 million, ended the utility’s obligation to provide water to any new land the city might annex.
“I really think we got railroaded into accepting that contract, and we certainly didn’t get enough out of it,” he said. “It did stop us from annexing Sterling Ranch. They were afraid we were going to do that, and they were going to have to supply water. … I sometimes wish I had spoken out more on issues, like against the water contract. But once it’s done and in the past, I tend to forget about it. Someday when I’m going through boxes, I’ll come across a whole bunch of things I wish I’d said.”
Despite all that, Taylor is happy with the state of the city as he leaves council.
“I’m glad to see that we’re open for business,” he said. “I want DRCOG urban-growth boundaries to stay static and not expand, which will mean more redevelopment within the borders, including Littleton. All the literature now indicates the young professionals don’t want to own homes, and they’re satisfied with not having a car. They like walkable communities and nighttime activities, and that’s why the apartments are so appealing to them. … I see the city aging, and I hope it ages gracefully. We’ve had a lot of growth, and I think that we’ve become more mature. The growth is going to cause more dense development if you can’t sprawl. We don’t have the ability to sprawl unless we annex into Douglas County. There’s no tax money to get from Jefferson County. If we had Sterling Ranch, we’d get building and use taxes right away.”
Wants to tax pot
Despite his conservative roots, Taylor has recently, and proudly, taken up a rather progressive cause.
“Well, it’s coming up, and that’s the retail marijuana ban,” he said. “Our citizens voted for it, and I’m getting lots of emails supporting retail. So if it fails, that’s going to be a big disappointment for me. I’ve always said regulate it and tax it. Not having the ability to tax it is really going to cause a reduction in our revenue. You’re not going to stop the marijuana, it’s still going to be there. The only thing retail changes is we receive no revenue; instead, Denver does. I look at life as you’ve got to be real. You’re not going to stop it, so let’s put it out in the open where we can regulate it and make money off of it.”
That issue will be settled before he leaves office, but that won’t be the end of his contributions to the city. He’ll remain on DRCOG’s Metro Vision 2040 committee and on the city’s Riverfront Authority, which manages the metro district that built the EchoStar building at Santa Fe and Bowles Avenue.
“I hope we will get a project to start working on,” he said. “If the city designates an area that needs help, we can use the Riverfront Authority as a vehicle to provide that help. Absolutely, it’s controversial. I do not shy away from controversy. … I don’t know what kind of opportunities will come forward next. I don’t anticipate sitting home doing nothing. I may show up at council a lot to give a different viewpoint from the ‘anti’ viewpoints.”