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May 2015 • Online Edition

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Ryan Thrives On Complex And Truthful Civic Collaboration | Print |  E-mail

by Susan Dugan

Paul Ryan isn’t quite sure how to answer when asked about his passion for facilitating the kind of group collaboration needed to get controversial things done – that makes many people squirm.

FOR PAUL RYAN, REGIONAL AFFAIRS DIRECTOR FOR MAYOR MICHAEL HANCOCK, communication, in which all sides feel they are being heard and respected, is the key to getting problems solved, be they small-scale neighborhood developments or large multi-jurisdictional initiatives.

“It sounds like you’re asking what’s wrong with me,” he quips. “I guess there’s something in my DNA. Maybe this sounds trite but I love this town, being able to work on projects that make a long-term difference, interacting with lots of folks with disparate agendas and positions, finding your way to a compromise. It requires trust and I think you earn that through the process, as people see that you mean what you say and your word’s good. That’s the only way to get to a solution that everyone can accept. For me, it’s a blast.”

A Chicago native who relocated to Colorado to earn a degree from Regis University in 1981, and stayed, the current regional affairs director for Mayor Michael Hancock became involved in local government through the back door a couple years after moving to West Washington Park in 1987. “I had been working for about 10 years as a communications consultant for human resources consulting firms that handle employee communication strategy, benefits, and hiring for much larger businesses. I got involved with WWPNA (West Washington Park Neighborhood Association) initially as a board member, and later as president.”

During his tenure with WWPNA, Ryan also began participating in Denver’s Inter-Neighborhood Cooperation (INC) organization. “Many of the topics of interest were around development and redevelopment. It gave me a quick study in how neighborhoods, developers, city staff, and elected officials could figure things out together. It was very similar in my view to the kind of work I had done prior as a communication consultant.”

Although he had enjoyed honing his skills in the corporate arena, Ryan eventually sought to apply what he’d learned in a more personally meaningful context. “I wanted to work on something that was closer to home and impacted my day. The late Jennifer Moulton, then Denver planning director, was a superstar and mentor. I would talk to her about wanting to apply communication strategy in my community.”

Moulton introduced Ryan to David Kenney and Jim Monaghan, principals with the public relations/lobbying firm Monaghan & Associates, where he landed a job working on local communications, government relations, and political consulting issues. When Kenney later formed the Kenney Group, Ryan followed him there, focusing on projects related to land use and property development in multiple jurisdictions, such as the Gates rezoning on S. Broadway, entitlements for architect Curt Fentress’ Watermark development in the Baker neighborhood, Gateway development around Denver International Airport (DIA), and other such efforts in surrounding cities and counties.

Although time constraints and the nature of his work forced him to back off his involvement with WWPNA, he stayed active in INC, lining up speakers and facilitating their annual forum on ballot issues. “It was a fun way for me to continue to stay involved with friends I had made there.”

When Michael Hancock was inaugurated Denver’s mayor in July 2011, Ryan assumed his current position with the city. “I first met the mayor back in ‘02, ‘03 when he was running for city council, the year when 10 council seats were open along with the mayor’s seat, the year Hickenlooper got elected. We became friends, and in the ensuing eight years whenever I had a difficult matter in Denver he was often one of the first people I would go to. He was very smart, measured, balanced, and always committed to seeing that all parties’ interests were at least respected. When he was elected mayor he asked if I could come on board as his director of regional affairs managing our relationships with surrounding communities, which was a natural fit since I’d already been working with many of them.”

Besides representing the mayor on organizations such as the Denver Regional Council of Governments board and the Metro Mayors Caucus, Ryan handles special projects. “I’m very involved with where we’ve gotten so far with the (National Western) Stock Show, working with them to hopefully figure out how to thrive for another hundred years. The Stock Show is now committed to trying to stay at their current location, and we’re delighted to be helping them make that work.”

Another of Ryan’s primary responsibilities involves helping realize Mayor Hancock’s vision for an Aerotropolis, by working with various constituencies to address complex governance, land use, finance, and infrastructure issues. “The airport is the single largest economic, development driver in the region. The mayor wants to leverage that asset for growth, for development that would naturally occur around an airport like ours – one of the largest in the U.S. – with the largest land mass and room for growth and development around it. There are businesses that really want to be on or right next to an airport. It’s a multi-jurisdictional effort to come up with a joint plan for that area that really maximizes the benefits of this wonderful airport for the whole metro area.”

In what’s left of his spare time, Ryan, doting owner (along with his wife, Pam) of 14-month-old golden retriever, Graham, serves on the board of the Denver Dumb Friends’ League (DFL). “The thing I’m proudest of now is serving my city, but the DFL is a close second. Every time I’m there I try to make time to walk through the kennels. Some of my board colleagues don’t do that because it makes them want to take them all home. But I see the animals as being in the best possible place they can be, in a much better place than whatever was going on in their animal lives the week before. This is their chance to get into a good, forever home, and I get kind of excited for them.”

And working to make the city a better place, communicating with various interests on difficult projects with long-term potential, continues to inspire Ryan. “What I find very fulfilling is being able to work on projects – and the Gates redevelopment is a fine example – that have long-term positive effects on our community, granted the length of time it takes for them to realize themselves, legacy kind of stuff. I hope that in my later days I’ll be able to look around town and the metro area and think I had at least some small role in it.”

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