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Council Member Spotlights: Mary Jo Coulehan, Don Coram, and Millie Hamner

By Matthew Telles
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In August, Regional Fellows interviewed a Regional Council Member in each of our featured regions to learn more about their unique work in community leadership: Southwest Regional Council Member Mary Jo Coulehan, Executive Director of Pagosa Springs Chamber of Commerce, San Juan Regional Council Member Don Coram, House Representative from 2011 – 2017 and State Senator from 2017 – 2023, and High Country Regional Council Member Millie Hamner, House Representative from 2010 – 2019.

Southwest Regional Council Member Mary Jo Coulehan:

Over the past 17 years, Mary Jo has served as Executive Director at the Pagosa Springs Chamber of Commerce. Her journey to this role is marked by a diverse background, blending corporate experience with small business ownership.

Upon moving to Pagosa Springs, Mary Jo deepened her community connection through her engagement with organizations such as the Humane Society, Seeds of Learning, and United Way. She was a natural fit for the Chamber position, where she saw an opportunity to utilize her corporate and small business expertise to support Pagosa’s businesses and foster a sense of community connection.

The Pagosa Springs community’s core needs—housing; childcare; and workforce—have remained consistent over the years, though their intensity has grown due to the town’s expansion. The Chamber’s role in addressing these issues has been essential, as Mary Jo leverages her position to create connections and collaborations that tackle these challenges. Through involvement with the local housing coalition and efforts to repurpose tax lien properties for affordable housing, she’s been instrumental in seeking solutions.

Mary Jo’s drive to address local issues—through connecting resources, providing solutions, and/or fostering collaboration—is fueled by her belief in the potential of communities to thrive and improve. She acknowledges that being part of the solution is vital and that her role allows her to make a meaningful impact on various facets of community life. Whether through her involvement with vocational training or resource coordination, Mary Jo exemplifies the power of a dedicated individual to drive change and enhance the well-being of the Pagosa Springs community.

 

San Juan Regional Council Member Don Coram:

In 2017, Don Coram was elected to serve Senate District 6, after previously serving in the Colorado House of Representatives from 2011 – 2017.  Don’s upbringing in Montrose County significantly shaped his decision to enter the political arena. Concerned that decisions were being made by those without applicable life experiences and historical perspectives, he was driven to participate and give a voice to the broader population.

As a member of the General Assembly, Don emphasized the necessity for the government to seek out knowledgeable voices to provide honest insights and opinions on matters beyond elected officials’ scope, with his service on the Judiciary Committee being particularly meaningful in this regard. In 2021, Don sponsored State Bill 21-067, aimed at enhancing civics education in Colorado. This legislation addressed a concerning gap in the curriculum by emphasizing history, culture, and the contributions of ethnic, racial, and religious minority groups. The bill focused on ensuring students understood the process of law enactment at federal, state, and local government levels. Don recognized the importance of a well-rounded education that delves into the nation’s past and equips students to avoid repeating historical mistakes while embracing achievements.

His passion to serve the people of Colorado stems from his belief in effective communication and respectful disagreement by valuing civil interactions even when encountering differing opinions, an approach he believes contributes to a foundation of good government. Don’s unexpected encounters with individuals over the years reinforced his belief in representing all citizens, not just those with similar views.

Dons impactful journey in the Colorado House and State Senate is marked by his commitment to informed decision-making, improved education, representing all constituents, and fostering respectful discourse for the betterment of Colorado and its citizens.

 

High Country Regional Council Member Millie Hamner:

Retiring from a 35-year career in public education, Millie felt a strong desire to continue her dedication to public service. A vacancy in House District 61 at the time, serving Lake, Summit, and Eagle counties, offered the opportunity for Millie to run for office.

In 2010, the counties of District 61 shared common challenges: ensuring equitable opportunities in education, environmental conservation, transportation improvement, economic growth, and maintaining a sense of community. She began by expanding her involvement in critical issues such as school funding equity, victim protections, and transportation safety.

One of Millie’s legislative focuses was education funding. She dedicated herself to crafting the annual school finance bill, aiming to ensure fair funding distribution for all students. Her passion for equity and education access resurfaced in her work to provide adequate resources for second language learners and those from disadvantaged backgrounds. While these efforts garnered positive change, they also highlighted the challenge of balancing different interests and priorities when addressing community concerns.

Millie’s deep sense of pride was reflected in her work on the state budget, a complex process that allowed her to play a significant role in shaping the allocation of resources for various legislative priorities.

Throughout her 10-year service as State Representative, Millie embraced the trust her constituents placed in her regarding their concerns, and that meant following her convictions to serve their best interests. In her retirement, Millie is grateful for the lives and communities she touched through her service. Her reflection offers a glimpse into the personal growth, challenges, and rewards of a public servant committed to making positive changes in her district.

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