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Cell Tower Zoning Champion Rick Sullivan Passes

January 27, 2016  —  Rick Sullivan, 66, who co-founded the Colorado Wireless Association, passed away Jan. 16. He suffered from ALS, known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. Rick worked in the telecommunication industry for 25 years primarily with AT&T.

His work experience was varied, but focused largely on leasing and land use issues affecting wireless installations. Rick served for a time as the company’s external affairs representative where he worked effectively with state and local governments and commissions to update statutes, ordinances and regulations affecting the industry, according to Vincent Stout, manager-regulatory relations at AT&T Mobility, who worked with Rick on and off for about 16 years.

When it came to zoning hearings, Rick batted 1,000. He never lost a public hearing for a cell site, with more than 200 approved. He also managed over 4,000 new cell site builds and 7,000 existing cell sites in 14 western states.

Stout gave a eulogy at the memorial service this week. Along with discussing Rick’s professional accomplishments, he gave some insights on the man himself.

“He was one of those rare persons that was essentially the same no matter where you might have encountered him, workplace or otherwise. He was always smiling, always glad to see you, always warm and inviting, and quick with a handshake and laugh. But, what impressed me most was his genuine concern about and sincere interest in others,” Stout said.

Rick was also very active on the advocacy side of the industry and he was on the leading edge of several major initiatives. In 1995, he worked to pass competitive local telecommunications legislation in Colorado, a year before the Telecommunications Act of 1996 passed Congress. He was appointed by Colorado Gov. Romer to sit on the committee that rewrote PUC regulations to accommodate competitive local exchange telecommunications. Additionally, he chaired the 911 committee that wrote the first ever 911 contract between cellular companies and Public Safety Answering Points.

“What I grew to appreciate about Rick was his unique awareness of how to advocate for the wireless industry in the public policy arena,” said Richard Busch,  Busch Law Firm. “Rick could sense the community’s and decision makers’ concerns, and through a variety of techniques educate them and earn their trust. Rick knew better than anyone else what the company needed to do in order to win them over. He might have made some of his colleagues a bit uncomfortable with his ideas from time to time but that is precisely why Rick excelled in the public policy arena. He really did know what was better, and he was a wise mentor for the rest of us.”

In 1996, he worked on state legislation that revised the definitions of telecom carriers, as well as passing the first statewide wireless 911 legislation in the country.

Rick was there at the beginnings of cellular working as the first real estate manager for McCaw Communications / Cellular One in 1989. He was responsible for kicking off the first cell site acquisition program for Colorado and Utah, acquiring and zoning 200 sites. His team revised more than 60 land-use regulations allowing for wireless facilities to be developed in land use districts where they previously hadn’t been allowed.

Rick is survived by his wife Terri Sullivan, daughter Shannon Sullivan and other family.