On Feb. 15, Arvada City Manager Mark Deven announced his retirement after 11 years with the city and a 41-year career in public service. Deven will remain in his position as city manager until Oct. 7, during which time the city will search for his successor.
During his tenure, Deven oversaw a period of significant change in Arvada that included western expansion, increased urbanization and the city’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Arvada Mayor Marc Williams commended Deven for his service and congratulated him on retirement.
“Mark Deven has delivered excellent service to the Arvada community, our City Team and the City Council throughout his 11-year tenure with the City,” Williams said. “His passion for public service is evident every day. On behalf of the entire City Council, we wish him the very best in his well-deserved retirement.”
Deven expressed gratitude for the city team and citizens of Arvada for their support and collaboration over the past decade-plus.
“I want to really try to convey how grateful I am to be able to come here, how grateful I am to the city council in terms of their support for what our team has done over the last 11 years and grateful to the community for their support and their love of this community and the city team. Without them, we can’t do what we do,” Deven said.
In light of his retirement, the Arvada Press sat down with Deven to discuss his time in Arvada, his decision to retire and his vision for where the city should go from here.
Editor’s Note: This conversation has been edited for clarity.
Arvada Press: What brought you to Arvada 11 years ago?
MD: I saw Arvada as an excellent opportunity to expand my career as a city manager, as well as a great place to live and work. So that was the main impetus of the job.
I felt like I made totally the right decision. Arvada is a welcoming place with engaged citizens and city council.
AP: How does Arvada today differ from the Arvada you walked into 11 years ago?
MD: The Arvada that I walked into was in good shape; my predecessor Craig Kocian did a fine job of managing Arvada through the Great Recession. And so, when I got here, there wasn’t a lot to fix.
My goal was to build upon previous success and establish some new initiatives that would improve on what was already a very good organization. I think what we really sought to do was to create a much more data driven organization and also a commitment to an updated mission, vision and values, and much more focus on strategic planning and performance management.
AP: As the city expands, what challenges are posed to the city team from a development perspective?
MD: While we’ve made significant investments in our infrastructure, we need to continue to do that. some parts of our infrastructure are 50, 60, 70, 80 years old. There’s constant reinvestment around that.
I think the workforce is facing new challenges. Like a lot of places, we’re looking at the employees that seek more engagement.
Obviously, we’ve got some social issues that we need to deal with — homelessness is probably the number one.
We have to make sure that we’re working closely and equitably with all segments of our community — geographically, from a socioeconomic standpoint, we have to make sure that our services are being effectively and equitably delivered.
AP: Many longtime Arvada residents have pushed back against high-density development in the city. How do you respond to that feedback?
MD: I would add managing growth. The way I read that, is that for many of our longtime residents, let’s say the residents who have been here 50 years or longer, or somewhere in that 30 to 50 year timeframe, they’ve seen Arvada transition from a pretty small community to the 8th largest city in Colorado and part of the larger Denver metropolitan area.
That brings about a lot of change. that brings up expansion — in our case, mostly to the west. it brings about more density in terms of multifamily kinds of building — apartments, townhomes, things like that.
While it creates more vibrancy in our Olde Town area, the favorite shops and the favorite places may no longer be there. I think for longtime residents, that’s probably disconcerting. In talking to people who have been here a long time, that’s been the feedback I’ve received.
AP: In dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic and the 2021 Olde Town Shooting, how have you been able to prioritize the needs of the city in the time of tragedy?
MD: Over the last two years, the prioritization of the city’s needs, the community’s needs has been ever changing. We have had to adjust, pivot almost on a week-to-week, month-to-month basis, especially early in the pandemic when I think the entire nation was trying to figure out what we were dealing with — conflicting public health orders and some limitations on people’s freedoms with closures and things like that.
For a while, we thought we were really battling for the survivability for small businesses and our community institutions. So, we had to take a lot of quick action.
We took action around business loans and grants. We took action with the closure of streets in Olde Town to provide more space for people to be able to shop and dine. We had to close off public facilities and then re-open them again. There were shifting priorities and we just had to work through it. And it certainly was taxing.
And then of course, the tragedies of last summer. Our organization and our community grieved for what happened. We had to support our employees that were hurting, community members who were hurting.
We had to deal with the fact that in Olde Town, where people always felt safe, they didn’t feel safe anymore. So, we had to adjust for that. So, it’s been a challenging time. But what we’ve learned through that is that we’re a resilient community and our organization, our people that work here, are resilient. our city council’s resilient. Through that, we really were truly Arvada Strong.
AP: In your previous position as the city manager of Woodland, California, you guided the city through the Great Recession as many neighboring cities faced bankruptcy. How did dealing with that challenge prepare you for handling Arvada’s response to Covid-19?
MD: When it first hit, we were projecting all kinds of calamity and catastrophe. But, a couple of things happened quickly; the federal government took decisive action with the Cares Act and other decisions that lessened the blow, and then we took decisive action, at first offering loans for businesses, and then, once the Cares Act funds reached us, turning those into grants.
Working with businesses such as through the Olde Town street closures, we also worked with businesses that needed to expand into their parking lot to create more space. So, we were very decisive, we were focused on trying to protect jobs and businesses, also trying to give people opportunities as much as possible to return to somewhat of a normal life. And i think that all helped us to get through the pandemic in the most positive way we could.
AP: How did the culture you’ve built here with the city team help facilitate the formation of the Arvada Resiliency Taskforce?
MD: Our vision statement is ‘We dream big and deliver.’ It’s more than a motto; it’s something we believe in — if we can align ourselves with our community partners, our business partners, our community residents, we can defeat anything. And the Arvada Resiliency Taskforce is a great example.
From day one, we worked with the Chamber of Commerce to reach out to businesses, whether they were Chamber members or not. Assist them any way we could. Personal protective equipment, help with understanding the ever-changing public health regulations, funding and stuff like that.
But we didn’t hesitate, we saw a void that needed to be filled and we filled it. And we did so with other community partners and people who supported small businesses and so forth to keep everything rolling.
One thing I really want to make sure I stress is that this job really needs to pay strong attention to three important groups; one is the city council, the other is the community, and the third is all of our employees. And if you can work with all three of those constituencies and create a unified, collaborative approach where everyone’s working together, then a city manager can be successful.
If you lose one, sooner or later you lose the other two. So, that’s where my focus has always been, is making sure I’m paying close attention to all three.
AP: How do you weigh citizen’s input with city council’s priorities?
MD: Part of citizen input would be our community survey, our engagement from Speak Up Arvada, community meetings, input received through things like our Ask Arvada customer request system, the emails and other contacts our city councilmembers have, work through our neighborhood engagement program.
So, from that kind of feedback, we know for example, that infrastructure is extremely important; management of traffic; quality of life in neighborhoods; keeping our parks system vibrant and relevant to the community. And of course, being really good stewards of our financial resources.
AP: What’s behind your decision to retire?
MD: One thing about these jobs is you don’t hold them forever. It’s almost like a public trust. You’re appointed and you have a responsibility to work very hard and leave the community in a better place than you found it; try to build on the success of the people that came before you and then turn it over to someone else who will likewise build upon your success and make it even better.
And so, after 11 years of doing this job, I felt like it was time to pass the baton. And the fact that it was 41 years in local government service, it’s time to pass the baton to someone else and root them on and enjoy their success.
AP: You’ll be staying on as city manager until October.
MD: I wanted to give the city council and everyone else that’s a stakeholder as much notice as possible. I wanted to make sure that we had an adequate timeline for the schedule to conduct the process of recruiting and selecting someone to be the next city manager.
AP: Are you going to be involved in that process?
MD: No. the outgoing city manager has no role in picking that person’s replacement. It’s up to the city council.
AP: What will you be working on until then?
MD: There’s a ton of things that we’re working on and will continue to work on. We’re trying to find ways to better address the issues around homelessness.
Certainly, there’s infrastructure projects and things like that that are continuing, such as right outside our front door here, and I’ll be responsible for putting together the next two-year budget for 2023 and 2024. and of course, we’ve got the next city council retreat, which is on March 4. So, we’re preparing for that.
AP: What are some of your plans for retirement?
MD: My dear wife has many projects for me to spend time doing. We’re going to do some traveling. And then eventually, as things settle down, I’ll want to find ways of serving the community, perhaps through volunteer work or something along those lines. I’m not going to sit around.
AP: Do you plan to stay in Arvada?
MD: Oh yeah. I’m from California. My wife and I have 5 kids, and four of them have moved here from California. The fact is that when they came out to visit, they saw what a beautiful place we had landed in, and eventually, four of the five came out here and moved. So now we have grandchildren and extended family and things like that.
We’re not going anywhere. Home is here. In fact, all four of the kids live in Arvada.
AP: How did Arvada become your family’s home?
MD: It’s a wonderful place to call home. There are some that will spend an entire career working in one place. That was not me, I did move around as opportunities presented themself, but what I was really hoping for when I came here 11 years ago was to do exactly what seems to be happening right now, which is to finish here and grow roots here and to stay here.
AP: What qualities would you like to see in your successor as city manager?
MD: I would like to see the city look for someone who will continue with the alignment of the major community priorities with the work that we’re doing day to day. Continue and frankly, expand on our community engagement.
This is something that I think we’re doing well right now, but find other ways, more ways to engage with the community, particularly at the neighborhood level.
And see through some of these big projects, obviously the bond projects, our water infrastructure projects, and continue to do the best that we can to manage development.
I think Colorado is going to continue to grow and we’re going to need to continue to manage that as best we can so that it doesn’t disadvantage the residents who are here and also embraces the people who would choose to come here.
AP: Assuming you’re still here 11 more years from now, what does Arvada look like in your best-case-scenario at that point?
MD: My hope is that the renewal of the city’s infrastructure would have progressed, that our community is highly engaged and remains supportive of city government and invested in their neighborhoods and other community institutions — schools, churches, things like that.
And that as a community, we grow closer together, across all interests and political beliefs. I believe the community will grow more diverse. If you look at the demographics of Colorado, there’s definitely a trend of more diversity, so hopefully we embrace that was well.