Frank Jaeger has never been shy about speaking his mind.
It’s a personality trait that has at times worked against him. It’s also one that has earned him a great deal of respect among those in the water and sewer industry. In his 31 years as Parker Water and Sanitation District manager, Jaeger’s reputation as a brash, bullish leader often preceded him. But all the murmurings about his perceived social shortcomings didn’t matter, as long as he got the job done.
“I’ve always understood that I had a reputation, a sort of toughness. It intimidated people, and I let it intimidate some people when it was necessary for the benefit of the district,” he says. “If people want to denigrate me for that fact, I don’t care.”
Despite departing earlier than expected — Jaeger frequently pledged to retire when he died, but was forced out after a change in board leadership — the 67-year-old is leaving with his head held high. He said he never compromised the integrity of the position and has “done all I can do for Parker Water.”
At the recommendation of a neighbor, Jaeger joined the board of directors for the fledgling, financially troubled PWSD in 1981. He soon became its manager and was instrumental in turning around a district that was headed in the wrong direction. Since that time, Jaeger has slowly built up the district’s infrastructure, received permission to divert excess flows from Cherry Creek, and got public authorization to build Rueter-Hess Reservoir, which at the time was the first federally approved off-stream reservoir in more than 20 years.
Jaeger, of Elizabeth, plans to enjoy his retirement by golfing (without keeping score), hunting, fishing and taking vacations with his wife, but will continue to offer guidance on water issues that affect Colorado. He is a lifetime member of the Colorado Water Congress and will regularly visit the Capitol to review the merits of proposed legislation.
“They know I won’t be silent and will give honest opinions,” he said.
Jaeger will take credit only for “surrounding myself with good people,” and says it’s the PWSD staff that should be recognized for helping the district flourish and, for example, earning it a AAA- bond credit rating. He gives special acknowledgment to Jim Nikkel, his right-hand man and project manager who oversaw the construction of Rueter-Hess.
It was the staff that stuck resolutely by Jaeger’s side as he faced backlash over budget decisions that some opponents characterized as irresponsible. Three new board members were elected in May and had plans to oust Jaeger immediately, but they kept Jaeger on staff during a tumultuous six-month transition period.
Jaeger has battled not only criticism, but also debilitating health issues. He has had numerous operations, including a spinal fusion and nine stents placed in his heart. He was diagnosed in 1979 with multiple sclerosis, which he believes is the underlying reason for his earlier medical discharge from the Army. He got his work ethic and durability from his mother, a “tough, old Swedish woman” who raised 12 kids and never complained.
“I’m a pretty resilient guy. I will keep on keeping on,” he says. “That’s who I am and that’s who I’ve always been.”