Q&A: Incoming Littleton city manager Jim Becklenberg looks to the work ahead

Public affairs veteran talks infrastructure, housing and how to lead with transparency

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A nearly four-month-long search for Littleton’s next city manager officially ended June 14 after city council members voted to approve a contract for Jim Becklenberg, who will take up the role July 6. 

Becklenberg succeeds Mark Relph, who retired June 1 after a near-seven-year tenure with the city, serving as public works director in 2015, acting city manager in 2016 and city manager since 2017. Littleton Police Chief Doug Stephens is the current acting city manager until Becklenberg takes over.

Becklenberg currently serves as the city manager for Evans, a city of about 22,000 people near Greeley. A veteran of public service, Becklenberg brings 25 years of experience from past government roles, including deputy city manager for the city of Pacific Grove, California, and assistant city and county manager for the City and County of Broomfield. 

The Littleton Independent spoke with Becklenberg about why he wanted the job, what experiences he brings to the role and what challenges, and opportunities, he sees in Littleton’s future. Answers have been edited for clarity. 

Littleton Independent: What drew you to wanting to work for Littleton?

Becklenberg: Our family has known about Littleton for a long time. Our kids are both now out of the house and kind of making their own way … as we started to think about what may be next, we thought about Littleton as one of the places we might be. We’re pleased to be planning to move to Littleton and get fully engaged in the community there.

What are some of the challenges you’ve faced in current and past government roles that you think prepare you for the work ahead?

(Working in) larger communities, I was able to learn from great mentors … and in some of the smaller communities, I’ve learned the importance of direct one-on-one communication with citizens as well as the council and the staff. The importance of communicating with the community cannot be understated.

One of the things I’m most proud of (working in Evans) is having a lead role in the community dialogue about the need for a new tax for infrastructure. Evans had been far behind on deferred maintenance … it took a long time and a lot of communication with different community groups to build support for the new one-cent tax that the city’s had in place now for a few years.

That initiative is similar to Littleton’s own sales tax increase, which voters raised by 0.75% in November to pay for vital infrastructure needs. Overseeing those funds will be a key task as you step into the role. How do you plan to do that? 

From what I can tell, there’s plenty of deferred maintenance in Littleton … I think the process of surfacing and documenting what those deferred maintenance needs are is an important first step to demonstrating action. Citizens know there’s a lot of need and the city has to be responsive and use those resources for the highest priority projects. But in addition to doing that work, we need constant communication and messaging about what that work is and how it relates to the sales tax.

Along with infrastructure, the city is also facing a major challenge in housing. Growing demand, low supply and unaffordable prices have made housing a key focus of the city council, which is currently considering implementing a mandate for affordable housing in the city. How do you view the current situation?

The city manager has a responsibility to look out for the entire community economy … I think we have to be mindful that we need workers for all jobs in the community in order to make Littleton work, and so we have to find a way to have housing that is attainable and affordable for all the different income levels in the community.

Housing can be a contentious issue for some community members who voice concern about what large developments mean for the city’s character. It’s led to pushback on major housing proposals, such as a plan to build up to 2,000 new housing units at the Aspen Grove shopping mall, which is now headed for a referendum. As city manager, how will you address these tensions?

There’s a lot of negative energy that can come with the various terms for affordable housing, but when people start sitting down and thinking about what the development concepts could be, there’s more room for compromise and understanding. Housing is one of those areas where you can’t just talk in high policy level terms … you have to meet those people where they are.

We have to focus on what those historic and valued attributes are for Littleton and make sure we can marry up those attributes with new development concepts and expectations for those who want to invest in Littleton. It starts with listening, and I think I really have a lot of learning to do … and that can start to build some relationships with those groups. You’re never going to have an agreement with everybody but you can start to break down some of the barriers and animosity that can be there. A question I would ask individuals is “how do we change, how do we grow?” Because we have to grow and change within the market for the development and growth that is there.

A lot of that conversation begins with trust, and trust begins with transparency. How will you employ transparency in your new role? 

Transparency needs to be a high priority value for the organization and from what I’ve seen it is.

I think as city manager, it’s my role to ensure that that value is part of the culture and that all of the processes that we engage in, all of the projects that affect the public directly, have strong opportunities for public input and participation.

The city has seen the need to partner on large issues, such as its work with the neighboring cities of Englewood and Sheridan on homelessness. How important do you think regional collaboration is for Littleton? 

The problems are larger than any one community so it would be probably impossible to solve a problem like homelessness without understanding the challenges and the pressures that Englewood and Sheridan are sharing as well as the broader metro area. When everyone is generating ideas for solutions and has some resources to contribute you can often come up with solutions that work for more people and are often more financially feasible.

We’ve talked about the city’s challenges, but what are some of the areas you’re excited for?

Littleton already has so many great amenities and attractions and things that make it distinctive … and I know many of those attractions, like the downtown, are facing new opportunities.

I also look forward to working with South Suburban Parks and Recreation to make the trails and the parks system even greater than they already are. I’m looking forward to making a dent in that deferred maintenance and spending that money in a way that is most meaningful for residents … if I can do those things it’s going to be a really exciting job.

Jim Becklenberg, Littleton, City of Littleton

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