On Jan. 10, Mike Hillman concluded his two terms as mayor of Idaho Springs and handed the gavel over to fellow City Councilman Chuck Harmon, who was elected in November.
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Hillman has lived in Idaho Springs since 2005, after he and his wife bought Hilldaddy’s Wildfire Restaurant and moved here with their nine children. He served on City Council for about 18 months before being elected mayor in 2013.
He ran for reelection in 2017 and survived a recall election in spring 2020.
On Jan. 6, Hillman sat down with the Courant for a final Q&A to reflect on his time as mayor. His answers have been edited for clarity.
Now that your second term is up, and you’re term-limited, what do you plan to do next?
I’ve already resigned from most of the boards I sit on. It’s time to slow down a little bit. We’re interested in moving closer to our 18 grandkids, most of whom live in the southeastern part of the country. I’m doing online classes for my Arkansas real estate license, and we’re looking to move after Michael — our youngest — graduates from Clear Creek High School this May. But, we need to sell the restaurant first.
What would you say were the city’s biggest accomplishments during your time as mayor?
Rebuilding the infrastructure, which this city needed badly. Streets, water and sewer lines, a wastewater plant. We replaced every road, water line and sewer line east of the visitor center. I’m most proud of that infrastructure piece because that will last for several decades. Also, building and retaining city staff was another huge thing. We have a great staff, and as I’m going out and Mayor-Elect Chuck Harmon is coming in, I’m confident he won’t have to deal with staffing issues.
There were several controversies during your time as mayor. Public pushback that culminated in the recall election, your April 2020 arrest after a domestic violence incident, and recent controversies with the police department. How do you reflect on these things now?
Regarding the recall election, I told everyone what I wanted to do in my first campaign eight years ago. I followed that vision, and I stayed true to that. I brought the ideas to City Council, who discussed and researched them. There are tough decisions to make when you’re in public service, and you’re not going to make everybody happy. About the incident with my wife, I admitted that something happened and I took full responsibility for it. I believe most everyone knew something like this was out of the ordinary. This all happened around the recall and the first shutdowns in spring 2020, so I had a lot of stress going on, and I just kind of broke. I’m human too; I make mistakes. We worked through it, and the lessons learned in that process were good for our relationship.
Do you think the city is better off now than when you started as mayor?
Absolutely, I do. Our businesses are thriving more; our infrastructure is way better; we are still putting some of the amenities back into the community; and city staff is solid. Back to the police thing, I came in with a police issue and went out with a police issue. It’s a tough thing, but I believe Chief Nate Buseck is going to make some good things happen with our department. I truly believe that I’m leaving the city much better than when I started here.
What do you think still needs work?
Housing is still the No. 1 priority, and there a few remaining infrastructure and street projects. I’m hopeful that future councils will continue to get that done. Our transit center project — or parking deck as we previously called it — has some good teeth right now and is moving forward. I firmly believe they’ll get that done soon.
What final message do you have for the community as mayor?
I want to thank everybody for allowing me to serve this community through the ups and downs. I respect and value all the citizens and business community members, and appreciate all the friendships and partnerships we’ve formed over the last eight years. A big thanks to city staff, and previous and current council members, especially City Administrator Andy Marsh and Councilman Bob Bowland — who’s been mayor pro tem for eight years. So, thank you, everyone. It’s been a great ride.
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