‘Just a regular guy’: Mike Waid reflects on his tenure as mayor of Parker

Nick Puckett
npuckett@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 1/6/21

Sitting at a picnic bench in O’Brien Park in downtown Parker, Mike Waid, then with less than one month remaining as mayor, recited his favorite line to the question of what he plans to do next. …

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‘Just a regular guy’: Mike Waid reflects on his tenure as mayor of Parker

Posted

Sitting at a picnic bench in O’Brien Park in downtown Parker, Mike Waid, then with less than one month remaining as mayor, recited his favorite line to the question of what he plans to do next.

“I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up,” Waid said Nov. 19.

Waid, 47, chose not to seek reelection in 2020 despite being eligible to serve another four years at the dais, citing his belief against career politicians. He said his goodbyes as mayor of Parker on Dec. 14.

Waid served eight years as mayor, preceded by four years as a councilmember and, before that, five years on the special licensing authority, three as its chair.

Waid led the town through substantial growth, often being forced to play peacemaker during public debates. A popular Parker entrepreneur prior to running for office, Waid stood out in his own right as a different kind of conservative maverick — one who wears flannel, has a long beard, ear piercings and tattoos, and disdains typical politicians.

Those close to him say there is little difference between the mayor people saw on-stage at the annual tree-lighting ceremony and the man they see driving around town in his black Jeep. Waid wore many hats, costumes and haircuts to fulfill the role as the people’s mayor of Parker — “just a regular guy,” he says.

Waid is famous for ad-libbing most of the speeches he gave as mayor. He is prone to slip into a long anecdote to explain a point or get a laugh whenever he is behind a microphone. Storytelling is how he communicates with the world.

The chilling wind and disappearing sun at O’Brien Park on Nov. 19 did not slow down Waid’s litany of stories as he reflected on the lessons he learned serving Parker.

“You know me, I love telling stories,” Waid said, “so just tell me when to shut up.”

‘When do I start?’

Today, Waid works as an IT director for Champion Bank, a job he started in August.

Waid began his working career as an entrepreneur with a photography business he started at age 14.

He and his wife, Pam, met while attending El Dorado High School in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He pursued a degree in political science and a minor in economics — “because that was the easiest way out of college,” he said. He recalled a guidance counselor who recommended the major after reviewing the hodgepodge list of credits on his transcript.

“She could’ve said accounting, underwater basket-weaving — whatever, and I would’ve done it,” Waid said. “It wasn’t necessarily a passion per se, but it coincided with how I enjoyed entrepreneurship and my experience in it.”

Waid came to Colorado in 1997, pursuing his wife’s dream to be a veterinarian. The couple had both finished with undergraduate degrees from the University of New Mexico and made a life in Fort Collins. Pam waited to be accepted into Colorado State University’s vet program. Mike, meanwhile, looked for a job wherever he could find one.

Prior to moving, Waid found a list of the top 100 employers in Fort Collins at the library. He started calling each company, starting from the top of the list. The first five did not pick up. His sixth call was to the Coloradoan, the local newspaper. He spoke to a woman named Jean in human resources and made a promise to be the best employee they had ever had. The woman told him they were not hiring.

“I hear what you’re saying, Jean,” Waid recalled his 23-year-old-self telling the woman over the phone. “But, trust me, you’re not going to want to miss me.’”

Waid followed up on his promise when he and his wife visited Fort Collins a week later. He went to the office and shook Jean’s hand. Jean told Waid to wait as she walked the entire facility, department by department, looking for an opening. She finally found one. Waid took the job before she could get the words out of her mouth.

“‘It doesn’t matter,’” he said to her. “I will do it better than anyone you’ve ever hired. So, when do I start?”

‘This is home’

Waid worked as an ad salesman for the Coloradoan. He left two years later to start his own ad agency, Image Design Group, specializing in small business marketing and advertising. He taught himself web and graphic design in the early days of the internet. He partnered with the Denver Dumb Friends League and built an online database for adoption pets, allowing potential adopters to view photos of available pets online.

After about a year, Waid left his company, which had by then been acquired by a company called Project Works. He started a new job in Denver working for a telecommunication software company and began commuting daily from Fort Collins.

The couple dreamed of buying a house in the Parker/Highlands Ranch area but, in 2000, could not afford to live there. In a last-minute effort to avoid becoming homeless, after a deal on a house in Aurora fell through, the Waids found a fixer-upper in the Cottonwood neighborhood of Parker in their price range. At the time, they had one son, Christopher. Their second son, Matthew, was born shortly after they moved to Parker.

Waid’s first and fondest memory of Parker is one that thousands have likely heard before in his State of the Town speeches or casual, off-the-cuff addresses. He ventured downtown with his family in the first week of June, during Parker Days.

Waid remembers when O’Brien Park was an empty lot, home to a Quonset hut that was the Parker Police Department’s headquarters until 2010.

“O’Brien Park used to be a dump,” Waid said, reflecting on the origins of the iconic gazebo, a Rotary club effort, and the revitalization of Parker’s downtown. “Mainstreet was like a two-lane highway. Nobody stopped at the businesses … and the Quonset hut was like a death trap.”

Regardless, Waid felt an immediate sense of home at Parker Days, watching Christopher at the petting zoo, and staying for lunch at the Warhorse Inn, a now-closed restaurant in downtown Parker. This was nothing like the tough, crime-ridden Albuquerque neighborhood he grew up in, or a bustling college town.

“This quaint, small, hometown feel,” Waid recalled from that day at Parker Days. “This is amazing. This is home.”

Creating a buzz

Anyone who stopped in Suite No. 18 at Parker Station in downtown Parker in the heyday of Waid Publishing would likely have no trouble reaching the owner at virtually any time of day.

“You were never going to just pop into the office,” said Tiffany Grizzle, a former employee and longtime friend of Waid’s. “If you were going to talk to Mike, you were going to be there for a while, and it’s going to be time well-spent.”

From an office on Mainstreet for most of the 2000s and 2010s, Waid ran a line of local business and entertainment magazines from Aurora to Castle Rock, each titled “Search.”

Grizzle wrote freelance articles and sold ads for several of the magazines. She described working under Waid as a one-of-a-kind experience.

“Still to this day … it’s almost there’s like a buzzing-ness around him,” Grizzle said.

His office usually a chaotic mess, Waid was at his best under pressure, Grizzle recalled.

“He almost has childlike-wonder goggles on,” Grizzle said. “He looks at everything with a sense of positivity and wonder that’s amazing.”

The mayor

Alicia Pope knew it would be hard to see her friend subjected to public scrutiny when he decided to run for mayor in 2012. But she could not think of anyone better suited for it.

Waid was nearing the end of his first term as a councilmember. He was lovable, charming and relished giving big speeches, she recalled.

“The Town of Parker has been through some crazy things in the last eight years, that’s for sure,” Pope said. “I can’t imagine someone who cared as much for the town and managed it in quite the ways he had.”

Pope, a 20-year Parker resident, knew Waid before he was elected mayor. A family friend since the Waids moved to Parker, Pope maintains that there is little difference between who people saw as Mayor Mike Waid and the man.

“He doesn’t pretend to be anyone different than who he is: A big-hearted guy who cares deeply about everything,” Pope said.

Waid started his mayoral tenure puzzled at his newly elected role.

The Town of Parker’s municipal code’s only stated requirement for the mayor is that he or she be present in town at least once every 90 days. The mayor does not vote on town council matters and, for the most part, facilitates discussion among the public, town staff and elected leaders.

“All people knew about a mayor is what they see on TV or whatever sitcom they’re watching, and (there) the mayor is a CEO of an organization and the mayor hires and fires,” said former Councilmember Joshua Rivero, who served alongside Waid since 2012. “Mike was very good at personalizing the role.”

Waid quickly became known for his hearty, improvised speeches, appearances at local schools, his approachable demeanor — and sometimes by his brightly colored hair.

Four months after taking his oath, Waid founded the “Shave the Mayor” event in partnership with the annual St. Baldrick’s Foundation fundraiser for cancer research. Participants shave their heads in solidarity with juvenile cancer patients.

Waid has made “Shave the Mayor” its own spectacle, upping the stakes by offering the largest donor to his fundraiser to choose a color he would dye his hair two weeks before the event. His hair has been blue-and-orange, purple and rainbow-colored.

Toward the end of his tenure, Waid used Facebook Live videos to keep people informed of COVID-19 updates during the height of the pandemic. By the time he left office, Rivero credited Waid with improving public engagement through education.

“He could be a college professor,” Rivero added.

One of Waid’s early tests to his wide-open persona came when he received a call from Ralph Neumann in 2015, asking if Waid was interested in performing in an upcoming production of “West Side Story” at the Parker Arts, Culture and Events Center. Waid accepted, wanting to demonstrate that the role of mayor is nothing special.

“I’m just an average guy who happened to be in the right place in the right time who won a popularity contest,” Waid said. “I did a lot of soul-searching and said ‘I need to use this role to have a positive impact on people I never meet.’ ”

Rachel Carter, a professional ballet dancer and teacher, later recruited Waid to be her dance partner in the annual Parker “Nutcracker.”

“It scared him to death to get into theater, but he had no regrets,” Carter said. Waid is not a great dancer, she admitted, but he more than makes up for it with his ability to engage with the audience.

“He is so likable, he’s just genuinely nice, and I think people can sense that when he’s on stage,” Carter said. “He’s just genuine.”

His first performance hooked him for life. He performed in “Spamalot,” “Sister Act,” “Footloose,” “Newsies,” “The Nutcracker” and “The Full Monty” at the PACE Center.

“He’s obviously not your typical mayor,” Pope said.

Meanwhile, Parker continued to experience rapid population growth during Waid’s tenure. The town’s population of 24,310 in 2000 grew to 45,297 a decade later. The town’s unofficial population at the end of 2020 hovers around 56,000.

As mayor, Waid sometimes drew criticism from those opposed to what they felt was a too-rapid pace of growth and development.

Grizzle recalled the only time she saw Waid get upset was when someone threatened or verbally attacked his family or his Christian faith.

Fighting fire with facts

After the COVID-19 pandemic hit Parker, Waid took to Facebook to put the pandemic in perspective. He posted videos explaining concepts like flattening the curve and dissecting language from dense public health orders so people could better understand them.

“I think Mike took a lot of burden on himself,” Rivero said.

At times, Rivero could tell Waid wondered if all that effort was getting through to people.

“The role became putting out fires because folks were attacking from all angles,” Rivero said, “trying to kill a myth before it snowballed.”

But Rivero knows now, with Waid’s tenure finished, that Waid made more of an impact than he may have otherwise thought.

“You have a much more educated populace” now, Rivero said.

Rivero gave a recent example where Waid used two glasses full of rice to illustrate hospitalization and death rates in Colorado.

“I looked up to the way he valued his community first,” Rivero said. “It was always about Parker. It was never about getting reelected or making your voter bloc happy. It was about making Parker a better place, daily.”

Waid reflected on his role shortly after his term ended. His favorite parts as mayor were the ones where he could visit a classroom full of kids or make a pediatric cancer patient smile.

Being a good leader, Waid learned, is “about improving the lives of people I will never, ever, ever meet. The way you do that is demonstrating to those around you what it is to be an amazing leader.”

“If I can help demonstrate to people ‘here’s a conservative Republican who’s in theater or dancing in a ballet’ ... Well, what does one have to do with the other?” Waid said. “For me, part of that role as mayor is to represent my citizens of Parker — all races creeds, sexes — whenever it’s called upon. The extra benefit of that is that I got to know a world I wouldn’t know anything about.

“I had no plans to go this route … I have no regrets in my life. The way the world — life — has brought me along has been a beautiful experience.”

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