Centennial girds for new leaders

By Peter Jones
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

This November’s Centennial mayoral election will be historic for the city of 103,000, as the founding mayor’s protégé squares off against a longtime civic activist.

Mayor Randy Pye has endorsed Centennial City Council member Todd Miller, a former mayor pro tem considered by some to be the establishment candidate to beat. Miller was feted Aug. 25 by state Rep. Spencer Swalm and other prominent south metro Republicans at a $100-per-person fundraiser in Cherry Hills Village.

“Todd Miller has the financial leadership, regional experience and vision for accountability to be a successful mayor,” Pye said in his endorsement.

The only other significant contender to emerge is Cathy Noon, who presided over last year’s Centennial Charter Commission, an elected panel that drafted the city’s voter-approved home-rule charter.

“I’m not running against Randy,” Noon said of Pye. “It’s not about personalities. For some people, [his endorsement] could mean a lot. Some people probably don’t know who our mayor is, and others may or may not like Randy. Like I said, I’m running on my own merits.”

Noon, who has never served on the City Council, was the founding president of the Centennial Council of Neighborhoods.

Noon has not hired a campaign manager to run her low-key campaign, and is counting on volunteer help instead. In contrast, Miller spent $2,000 on a campaign manager and paid political consultants $4,500 during the early months of the campaign.

“My campaign has a steering committee instead of one campaign manager,” Noon said. “This method worked well in the charter election, and many of the same people are involved this time — as well as others ... who wanted to be involved.”

Noon’s candidacy has been endorsed by 6th District U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman, a Republican, by three other Centennial incorporation founders — John Brackney, the president of the South Metro Denver Chamber of Commerce, Brian Vogt, CEO of Denver Botanic Gardens, plus County Assessor Ed Bosier, Arapahoe County Clerk & Recorder Nancy Doty — and by various less-well-known local officials.

Noon, like Miller, is a registered Republican. Although city races are officially nonpartisan, Miller has the support of former 6th District Republican Congressman Tom Tancredo, state Sen. Nancy Spence, of Centennial, and David Kerber, chairman of the Arapahoe County Republican Party.

Miller has raised almost $19,000 for his campaign and Noon has raised almost $9,000.

The race for mayor has been seen by some as a triple referendum — on Pye’s tenure, on Miller’s incumbency and on the home rule charter co-authored by Noon, which was passed overwhelmingly in a special election last year, despite a spirited debate on the merits of home rule.

Pye’s legacy

For eight years, Centennial’s founding mayor — more than anyone else — has helped define the metro area’s newest city.

Pye led Centennial through its incorporation and its move to home rule. He guided it through controversies, as well, including bouts with Centennial Airport and Arapahoe County and the sensitive issues surrounding sexually oriented businesses.

In recent months, as he prepares to leave office, Pye has become the chief advocate for spending $6 million to build an 11-acre park adjacent to the new Centennial Civic Center on East Arapahoe Road.

Hopes are that the signature park — with its planned water features, “destination playground” and amphitheater — will help forge an identity for the largely nondescript south metro suburb.

However, an increasingly vocal group — which includes former Charter Commission member Sue Rosser and City Councilwoman Rebecca McClellan — has questioned the wisdom of spending so much of Centennial’s county-provided open-space funds on one park. Some say the expense would make it difficult for the city to buy other open space that might otherwise be marked for development.

The City Council has yet to formally discuss options for park names, although Pye — who helped conceive the incorporation more than a decade ago — arguably has played the greatest single role in Centennial’s development.

Without benefit of city history, political precedent or, even the constraints of a home-rule charter, Pye has been a comparatively strong mayor, especially considering that Centennial officially operates under a Council-city-manager form of government.

Pye was the city’s de facto leader even before being elected mayor, and he tends to receive the kind of public deference due to one of the incorporation’s five founders. So, for some, his endorsement of Miller may be important.

Pye always has won election handily in Centennial, usually defeating unknown opponents by healthy margins as other potential candidates stood on the sidelines waiting for a better opportunity to take the city’s reins.

The Centennial City Council has been debating whether a statue of Pye and his fellow founders should be erected in the proposed Civic Center Park. The possibility has drawn a mixed reaction. City Councilman Ron Weidman likes the idea. Fellow Councilman Rick Dindinger might support it if the statue were sufficiently “tasteful.” And Councilwoman Betty Ann Hamilton, who resigned in August, opposed the entire concept.

This November, term limits will kick in for the first time, forcing Pye to step down in January, and Centennial will see what is arguably its first serious race for mayor since 2001.

Miller time?

In March, with the new Centennial Civic Center and its surrounding open space as his backdrop, Miller, Pye’s pick in the mayoral race, officially announced his candidacy.

Stressing a need to build civic cohesion, the candidate sounded themes of regionalism and teamwork as he pledged to take the burgeoning 8-year-old city to the next level.

“One of the things I really want to work on is community,” Miller told a small group of supporters. “Behind us, we’re going to have an 11-acre park … (providing) a good opportunity to bring our community together.”

The city purchased the Centennial Civic Center on Arapahoe Road and its surrounding open space last year to replace the nearby office space rented by the city during its early years. The move was considered not just fiscally prudent, but also a way for the city to build a sense of community.

Miller, 44, who, since 2004, has represented District 4, on Centennial’s eastern edge, was flanked by Pye, Kerber and current and past members of the City Council.

In face of the economic downturn, Miller emphasized the need for Centennial to remain vigilant in pursuing new efficiencies.

“I want to make sure that, especially in (these) tough times … we are getting every ounce of every dollar that we can,” he said, noting that the City Council has worked on developing performance metrics.

Using metrics, Miller explains, he would measure the city government’s performance through a “Centennial Scorecard” that would allow managers to monitor and analyze programs, providing feedback and accountability.

“The Centennial Scorecard will save taxpayer dollars, increase the service level to our citizens, and create a local government that is inherently more responsible to the citizens it serves,” Miller said.

Noon, however, is skeptical.

“The concept is interesting, but it also seems to be very staff intensive, which sounds like time and money and an increase in government — not something I’m hearing our citizens favor,” she said when asked about Miller’s proposed system.

She believes Miller’s desire to rely on such systems points up an essential difference in management styles.

“At this moment, I see the biggest difference being the type of leader, rather than the issues,” Noon said. “I’ve shown that I am hands-on, approachable and a listener. I will continue to interact with the public to learn citizens’ thoughts on issues that come before council. That means attending open houses, meetings, city events, neighborhood meetings, CenCON —whatever it takes to hear what is going on in our city rather then relying on a staff report in the council packet. Citizens want to know they are being heard.”

Miller says he has nothing but respect for Noon, who was narrowly defeated for City Council in 2005. Miller, who, in 2001, lost his first bid for City Council, says his council experience makes him more qualified to be mayor.

“Cathy and I are great friends,” he said. “You will never hear me say a derogatory word about Cathy. She is a huge attribute to the city of Centennial, and I look forward to a really good discussion with her about the issues.”

A split vote?

Many in Noon’s camp had been hoping Miller’s rumored plans to run for mayor would fail to materialize. Some feared that Noon and Miller would split the vote if an anti-home-rule candidate from the older, western end of the city were to surface.

Two long-shot anti-home rule candidates — Michael Weber and Greg Schoenfeld — also have emerged. Neither is expected to have a significant impact on the race.

Although Miller has been a popular figure on the eastern end of the city and ran unopposed for re-election in 2007, he isn’t known as well in the western half of the city, which is more urban and middle-class, with older homes and a more established population.

Miller does not think city geography or Centennial’s now settled home-rule question will play major roles in November’s election.

“We’re one city,” he said. “There are certainly differing issues from one side of the city to the other, but I think the voters are good at looking at what are the real issues. So I’m not worried about splitting votes with Cathy. We both speak to the benefits of living in Centennial.”

Pye’s endorsement may carry weight with those who visualize Centennial’s first mayor as a stable force who has seen their town through its rugged early years.

Others have quietly drawn attention to Pye’s current role working for Capitol Solutions, a government lobbying firm specializing in service to the development industry.

Critics speak in hushed tones about Pye’s involvement with Capitol Solutions. The firm lobbies for developers, and some see that as a potential conflict of interest for a mayor.

Miller, however, sees Pye’s support as entirely positive.

“If there weren’t such a thing as a term limit, I wouldn’t be here today,” Miller said during his official announcement. “... I know that, no matter what candidates come forward, none of us will ever fill [Pye’s] shoes.”

A mentoring relationship

Pye has said in the past that he originally encouraged Miller to seek office in city government. Some observers on the City Council say Pye has been a mentor to Miller.

Miller, however, emphasizes that he would be his own man as Centennial’s mayor.

“I certainly don’t take issue with being considered as being mentored by the mayor, but I certainly differ with him on a lot of issues,” Miller said.

Miller’s City Council term ends January 2012, and if he’s elected mayor, the City Council will have 60 days to either appoint a replacement to fill his District 4 seat or call a special election.

“I think it’s my good graces to be able to work with some very good council members,” Miller said. “I think I do a good job of reaching consensus and trying to see everybody’s point of view.”

After having led the process last year to draft the home-rule charter, Noon is hoping to take the reins as the city’s first mayor to serve a full term leading Centennial as a home-rule city. She also would be the first woman to serve as Centennial’s mayor.

Noon, 52, is focusing her candidacy on the opportunities presented by home rule.

“I would like to take our city to our next decade,” she said. “We have set up some really good foundations, not only home rule, but some great policies over the last few years, and I think now it’s time to really move forward. Even with the changes in our economy, our city is positioned to do really well.”

The city charter co-written by Noon was approved by Centennial voters in June 2008 by a greater than 2-to-1 ratio. The charter brought permanence to the city’s form of government and allowed the city greater opportunities for self-governance.

Building consensus

During her decade as a civic activist and neighborhood leader, Noon has developed a reputation as a consensus builder. She has since fostered a contingent of supporters across the city, largely by virtue of her leadership of the Charter Commission.

Noon received more votes than any of the other 35 Charter Commission candidates in the election that created the body in November 2007. She was elected by her fellow commissioners to serve as the board’s chair, but has never held a paid elected position.

In her role as Charter Commission chair, it was Noon’s responsibility to identify common ground among the nonpartisan board’s 21 members — which, through happenstance, consisted of 10 Republicans, 10 Democrats and one unaffiliated member.

Noon believes chairing the Charter Commission was good preparation for the mayor’s office.

“I was a consensus builder throughout the [charter] process, leading 21 people with really diverse backgrounds through four months of hard work,” she said. “I was really proud to get such agreement on the document. As mayor, you have to be able to work with a lot of different personalities and with different parts of the city.”

Among the Charter Commission’s more controversial decisions was the decision to appoint, rather than elect, Centennial’s city clerk and its treasurer. The change drew protests from Republican activists, who argued that home rule was placing too much power in the hands of city staff members.

In addition to completing the work involved in fully enacting the charter, Noon wants to ratchet up Centennial’s economic-development efforts.

“Certainly, the economic challenges of our sales-tax base and our property-tax base, with the way the economy is, that’s something we have to watch,” she said. “Going out and attracting a variety of businesses is the way to survive any downturn.”

Noon also would like to help foster a sense of community for Centennial, a city cut from a broad and disconnected swath of Arapahoe County eight years ago.

“I’d say the housing stock and the school districts were our biggest draw to the community,” she said. “I think, for Centennial, that’s still true. We have great schools and great neighborhoods.”

Noon says raising money has been a challenge due to the economic downturn. She anticipates that she’ll have a low-budget, grassroots campaign run by volunteers familiar with her civic record.

“I have a lot of folks that have been encouraging me to run, and they’re ready to go back out and walk the neighborhoods with me,” she said. “That’s how we formed the city. That’s how we passed the charter. I think there are some folks who are ready to put their walking shoes back on.”

Election Day is Nov. 3.