Abe Laydon, county commissioner, speaks at Douglas County's 2023 State of the County event that highlighted the county government's actions over the past year. The gathering took place Nov. 15 at the Douglas County School District Legacy Campus in Lone Tree. Credit: Ellis Arnold

After a lengthy presentation touting the county’s 2023 achievements and investments, Douglas County Commissioner Abe Laydon ended the annual State of the County event by announcing he is stepping down as chair of the board at the end of the year.

Laydon asked fellow Commissioner George Teal to take over board leadership in 2024. Teal seemed agreeable to the request during the Nov. 15 event.

When asked what prompted the announcement, Laydon said, “George earned it fair and square. Today was our last large county event of the year and we normally select our leadership as we enter the new year.”

Laydon said that a vote of the three-member board — himself, Teal, and Lora Thomas — has to be taken in January to make it official.

“True leadership requires that we not forget to send the elevator back down and empower others to do their best work as well,” said Laydon, who was reelected to a second term in 2022. “No commissioner can do it alone, and on a three-member board, you need at least one other vote, ideally two, to get anything done. Not only has George been a kind, thoughtful, trustworthy collaborator, and vice chair, but most people don’t realize that 95% of the incredible successes we shared today at the State of the County were a result of Commissioner Teal simply being the second vote.”

In the annual State of the County, the 2023 theme was “Partnerships in the Public Interest.”

Douglas County Commissioner Lora Thomas applauds on stage at the 2023 State of the County event in Lone Tree. Photo by Ellis Arnold.

The commissioners, through videos and prepared speeches, highlighted work in a variety of areas, starting with coming together in a moment of need when a tornado hit Highlands Ranch in June.

A video showed county residents coming together to support each other and clean up the damage, and highlighted the work of emergency crews and volunteer organizations.

Laydon also thanked the State of Colorado for its support in declaring a disaster that later led to federal aid opportunities.

In other areas to highlight successful partnerships, the commissioners talked about work in the public safety sector, transportation, health and human services, historic and natural resources, economic foundations and essential county services.

Laydon highlighted the county’s work in 2023 in reducing homelessness rates, saying Douglas County is one of two counties statewide to reduce numbers through a variety of efforts.

In 2021, Douglas County started the homelessness initiative using the four Cs, compassion, code enforcement, community services and communications, as the principles to the program.

In 2023, Laydon said, the county started HEART, or Homeless Engagement, Assistance and Resource Team, which teams sheriff’s deputies with mental-health professionals to respond to calls regarding homelessness and offer services to those who want help.

Laydon said HEART has been successful, helping to reduce homelessness in the county by 36% and fielding more than 1,400 calls this year.

Besides partnering with local law enforcement to address homelessness, Laydon said the county also took action to address the “Number one potential threat facing Douglas County” — wildfires.

In the video, Laydon is shown standing among some Lone Tree homes, where he said one square mile in Douglas County is worth $111 million in property values. To better prepare for wildfire, the county invested in an exclusive-use firefighting helicopter to respond 153 days a year.

Mike Alexander, the county’s emergency management director, said in the video that the helicopter is critical to wildfire prevention efforts as it carries up to 329 gallons of water and nine passengers.

In transportation, the county continues to partner with local municipalities to improve major roadways. The county has invested $120 million to help Castle Rock build the Crystal Valley Interchange, $4 million to work with Lone Tree to improve Lincoln Avenue and $13 million to improve major roadways in Highlands Ranch.

Other partnerships highlighted by the Douglas County commissioners in 2023 include growth in the county’s mental health program, which expanded to include more help for youth and veterans.

Douglas County Commissioner George Teal speaks at the 2023 State of the County event in Lone Tree. Photo by Ellis Arnold.

Teal also highlighted the county’s increased attention to the aging population in Douglas County. Teal said the county worked to gather information in 2023 through multiple town halls and surveys. With the results expected in 2024, Teal stressed the county will make senior citizens a priority in the coming year.

In the presentation that lasted an hour and a half, the county also highlighted success in building a brand-new health department that got up and running in 2023 and continued efforts in economic stability to build a strong relationship with the business community.

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