Ask Kevin Patterson about his stint as interim chief of staff for Gov. John Hickenlooper and he will tell you with a chuckle, “There are more stories I can’t tell than ones I can.”
Patterson, who earned the dual Master of Public Administration / Master of Urban and Regional Planning from CU Denver’s School of Public Affairs and the College of Architecture and Planning, is willing to share what he calls his most “fascinating” experience as interim chief—Hickenlooper’s apology to Cheyenne and Arapaho tribe members for the Sand Creek Massacre of 1864.
“This event was still fresh in the minds of descendants of the victims of this massacre, as if it had happened yesterday, so the apology also felt fresh to them,” Patterson said. “You knew you were watching history being made. It just took 150 years to make it.”
“It was his book … that I still remember and use”
Patterson, who had served as deputy chief of staff and chief administrative officer during Hickenlooper’s first administration, assumed his interim role in the governor’s office on Nov. 13, at the governor’s request.
“We are grateful that Kevin has agreed to serve as our interim chief of staff as his experience, intelligence, unflappable demeanor, and natural inclination to put the people of this state first will help ensure a seamless transition,” said Hickenlooper.
Patterson’s interim duties ended on Feb. 2, when Doug Friednash, an attorney with Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, assumed the position of permanent chief of staff.
Patterson, who confesses to having “done more jobs than I want to think about,” has an extensive history of public service in Colorado. He served as deputy manager of the Denver Department of Human Services and subsequently manager of both the departments of General Services and then Parks and Recreation in Denver. He also was twice elected to the Denver Public Schools Board of Education.
During his time as deputy chief of staff to Hickenlooper, he also served as interim executive director of the Governor’s Office of Information Technology as well as the Colorado Energy Office during leadership transitions.
Patterson attended CU Denver in the early ’90s and still credits Peter de Leon, PhD, a national and international leader in public policy research and faculty emeritus, for helping him in his work for the past 20 years.
“It was his book about the stages in policy process that I still remember and use,” Patterson said. “I tell people, ‘Here’s where we are, and here’s what we need to do, and it still works.’”
Patterson describes the role of chief of staff in straightforward terms. “You’re doing everything you can to help the governor run the state,” he said. “You’re never off duty, and when something happens—train derailment, weather event, officer shooting—you get the calls.”
As for his boss, Hickenlooper, Patterson is equally blunt. “Nobody works harder than this guy,” he said. During the most recent campaign for governor, Hickenlooper turned to Patterson at one point and asked, “Do you know how many hours you had me scheduled for last week?”
“Maybe 80?” guessed Patterson.
“92 hours,” Hickenlooper said. “92.”
“Well, governor,” Patterson replied, “it’s good to be above your goal.”
Patterson credits his graduate work with preparing him to work in a high-profile, stressful environment, teaching him to define and understand problems and helping him to establish priorities in his work.
“I think it was really helpful to do the dual degree so that you could see different approaches to the same problems,” Patterson said. “I can look at things from the public administration side, but I can also see them from the land-planning side, which is great.”
Patterson has returned to an expanded role as chief administrative officer (“I am the utility infielder for this administration”). Wherever he lands next, he will take with him the public policy foundation he received at the CU Denver School of Public Affairs.