Traces of Molly Markert’s 12 years on Aurora City Council are hard to miss. Scooting down any of the arteries that course through her west-central Ward IV yields a physical road map of the many victories, defeats and ongoing civic battles that have unfolded during three terms in office.
But term limits prevented Markert’s name from appearing on a ballot this year for one of the few times since she was a state legislator in the 1980s. We sat down with the 62-year-old mother of two in her Municipal Center office — which is flecked with dusty photos, awards and bejeweled hardhats — to learn more about her aspirations, her reflections and what she’s planning on doing with 2,000 pairs of prescription eyeglasses.
QUESTION: You live in, work in and represent Ward IV. Now that you will no longer be the overseer of that portion of the city, how do you plan on staying involved and active there?
A: From a philosophical standpoint, I’m going to be retrospective. I can drive down Havana and say, “I did that, I did that, I did that, I did that.” But I don’t see the need to shepherd or mother the new council person because there’s no value in mother-henning or hanging on. I use Ingrid Lindemann as my role model, and she had the most beautiful phrase when she left. She said something to the effect of, “The government is taking an ordinary person, from their ordinary life, elevating them to do the work for the people, and then putting them back in their ordinary life.” And I really intend to do that to the best of my ability.
Q: Are there any projects you’re disappointed you weren’t able to see come to fruition while in office?
A: Well, I’m bound and determined to drive the bulldozer into Regatta Plaza. So the pressure’s on the staff to get that one done. I might not have my CDL license, but before Dec. 7 at 7 p.m., they need to make sure that I’ve got a bulldozer to drive.
And I sure am proud every time I drive Havana because that’s a dream realized. When I came into office, everyone was grousing saying, “The city won’t give us any money, we’ve got a pot hole here.” It was a huge process and we met forever to consider, ‘Do you want to include the residents in a new district? Well, that will up the tax base, but it makes the vote harder. Should we just do the businesses? Well, they get taxed more, but it’s harder to get the votes because there are so many absentees.’ There were so many pros and cons back and forth, but look at it now. They’ve got $1 million a year to spend on themselves, and that’s a heck of a lot more than the city ever could have done for them.
Q: You’ve been quite vocal about butting heads with City Manager Skip Noe. Have your thoughts on Skip changed at all?
A: No, and it’s not about gender, it’s truly not. The bigger question is, is Aurora a large enough city to require full-time council members? And I think the answer is yes. I think the people who find fault with Skip’s style of leadership are those of us that are attempting to be full-time council members on top of whatever the rest of our life is. Fielding citizen concerns, answering email, reading everything we’re given, and addressing what people talk about, that takes a lot of time. And if the city manager isn’t aligned with those tasks as valuable and important, then it’s hard to get our work done. And I think the answer is far more in a full-time city council. It’s more about what kind of governance the city wants. And that then leads to what kind of city manager the city wants.
Q: Given that Aurora’s model of government stays in place, what sort of influence would the current or a future city manager have on your decision to run for public office again?
A: I’m all in favor of city manager/council, I’m not a fan, at all, of strong mayor. I think it’s way too risky politically. I’m not a fan of city and county because I think it’s an expensive proposition for very little outcome. So, I’m fine with the model of the council running the policy based on the people and the city manager running the city and the staff.
But I don’t think there’s a connection. I think a good city manager runs with the council and adapts to whoever is elected.
Q: Are you interested in running again?
A: Probably. I did the state legislature before I had kids and I don’t want to do partisan (politics) because I really like to get things done as a group. … Does absence make the heart grow fonder and would I run for Mayor? I know that’s the burning question — we’ll wait and see. I can’t make that statement now. I might really like having Monday nights to myself, but then again I might have some real passions about different ways that the city could be administered in a different way. I would be totally different. I would not take developer money, so I would have to start a lot sooner to collect little dollar bills from here, there and everywhere to get any funding at all. It would be a different race and a very different set of values for the city. It’s truly a case of absence and a question of whether I miss the city, and does the city miss me? Do I have the skills the city needs at the time? We’ll see.
Q: What are you going to be doing on Monday nights from now on? Any shows you’ve been unable to watch and have been waiting to dive into?
A: I don’t have a television. Well, I do, but I don’t have cable, and my kid hid the remotes years ago, so I don’t know how it works. But, I mean, I’ve got this crazy life where every person is a story — why would I want to watch some sitcom? I live it.
It’s more of getting my weekends back. I understand people hike and shop and go places on Saturdays, so I’d like to experience some of that. I’m looking forward to just kind of being normal for a while.
Q: What are you going to miss the most about being a city councilwoman?
A: I will miss the camaraderie. Here’s my analogy: If Aurora is a cruise ship of 350,000 people, there are 11 captains — alright, 10 and one — but there’s 11 of us that think we’re steering the wheel. That camaraderie is formed by the fact that there’s nobody to throw this anchor to — it’s just us. I really love every single one of my peers because we might disagree on everything or I don’t have a clue where they’re coming from, but we’re the only 11 people on the planet right now that are running the city, and it’s a pretty cool group. It’s like mercury, but we’re peers and comrades first and different wards, roles and views second. That I’ll miss.
Q: And the least?
A: It’s the sense of always cutting corners. Watching the clock when I’m on the phone, always feeling like I’m supposed to be onto the next thing and, in the process, cutting corners and not savoring everything fully. I try to always be in the moment, but there’s always that running around. I don’t know if that’ll change any, it’ll still be lots of stuff going on at once, but it’s one less set of voices.
Q: What is the biggest challenge facing Aurora going forward?
A: There sure is a lot with annexation, growth, and city and county, but the challenge that I want to see us address is how does the millennial generation engage in government? And how do we marshal that creativity and energy? … I think our biggest challenge is figuring out how to harness where the world is happening and get it incorporated into how we think, how we market, how we talk, how we answer questions, and how we solve problems.
Q: What’s next for Molly Markert?
A: You mean after cleaning out my office, finishing the remodel of my basement and finding out if I still have a real day job — you mean other than those things? I’m looking at a tapering, if you will. I’ve got a vacation with the family and then I’m going to Ethiopia in the middle of November. My girlfriend and I have collected 2,000 pair of prescription eyeglasses that we’ve obtained from local optometrists to donate to schoolchildren in Adama, Aurora’s sister city.
But everybody has a different plan for me. My son thinks I should get a dog because his dog needs a companion. I’m sure my daughter has an opinion, but she hasn’t been as vociferous about it. … I bought a new recliner Memorial Day Weekend, and I want to see what it feels like to sit in it.
But I’ll stay involved in the city — I don’t want to make any promises or commitments, though, because I honestly don’t know. I’ve been involved since I moved here in the 70s so I can’t imagine not being involved in the city in some way … but there’s nothing like council. It’s literally like an advanced degree in applied civics and you can’t go do something else afterward that’s sort of like it, but not quite. So budget committee, planning commission, none of that stuff has any appeal to me because you can’t replicate the experience of being able to see the whole city functioning all at once.”