Many observers of the Centennial mayoral race between District 4 Councilmembers Stephanie Piko and C.J. Whelan say the candidates are similar in style and substance. The two squared-off politely Sept. 25 for Centennial Council of Neighborhoods. Photo by Peter Jones
BY PETER JONES
Two sitting members of the Centennial City Council who hope to become the next mayor, two council incumbents up for re-election, and seven newcomers to municipal politics made their cases last week for the Centennial Council of Neighborhoods.
The largely friendly 90-minute forum on Sept. 25, held in anticipation of next month’s election, saw the current and potential city leaders discuss such subjects as taxes, economic development and transportation with little disagreement, leaving voters to decide whose temperament and grasp of the issues would be best suited to lead Centennial.
The two candidates for the city’s top elected position are both sitting councilmembers. They not only represent Centennial’s far-eastern District 4, but many in the community say the two are similar in both style and substance.
Both Stephanie Piko and C.J. Whelan touted credentials as fiscal conservatives who would hit the ground running, with emphases on “smart” transportation and infrastructure.
Incumbent Centennial District 2 Councilmember Doris Truhlar, right, makes a point as the crowded opposition listens. From left, Tamara Maurer, Nancy Nickless and Barrett Rutledge.
“I think I have the experience, the knowledge and the vision,” said Whelan, a telecommunications business owner with degrees in finance and engineering and a onetime president of Cunningham Fire Protection District.
The candidate said because the 16-year-old debt-free city had survived the recession and made its mark in such areas as public safety, technological innovation and public works, it may be time for Centennial to spread its wings into such areas as beautification, or perhaps the establishment of a community-driven senior center.
“Those take a lot of money,” he said. “But I think we’re at a point where those are some of the things we need to start to consider.”
When asked how the city might spend some of those resources to encourage young entrepreneurialism in the city, Whelan was quick to point to the nearby Centennial Airport as a potential hub to land good ideas, especially in related areas of aeronautics.
“That’s the sort of thing where I think the city could help play a part,” he said. “… You’ve got to know where your assets are in your area and leverage them and get people excited about starting businesses.”
Piko, who prior to her council stint served on the Centennial Planning and Zoning Commission and was active in Cherry Creek Schools, said her top priority is increased “connectivity” of the city’s traffic systems, particularly in light of projections for population growth.
“It’s important that we have a City Council that’s committed to actually spending the extra money citizens have paid into for their taxes to go out and get these projects done. … We have to make sure that we’ve done our job to make sure our infrastructure is up to par and can handle the people that are coming,” Piko said.
Part of the related city planning will involve housing options as Centennial’s seniors attempt to age in place and the millennials that will soon constitute half the nation’s workforce try to find affordable and lifestyle-conscious places to call home.
“We need to challenge our developers to come up with inventive solutions,” Piko said. “… When we say mixed use, don’t think of mixed use as just business and residential. Think of it as mixed use with open space. … We can have community gardens. We can have shared space.”
Piko said the award-winning and decidedly 21st century city would be well placed to “embrace” such opportunities in an “exciting manner.”
A slate of new entries is competing for an open position in Centennial’s District 4. From left, Marlo Alston, Charlette Fleming and John Miquel.
Incumbent Doris Truhlar may have her work cut out for her in the crowded race to hold onto her seat in central Centennial’s District 2, where three new hopefuls are seeking to unseat the first-term attorney and former journalist.
“I served the city very well for the last four years. I’ve been an extremely diligent City Council member,” she said after 90 minutes of the trio jockeying for her job.
The incumbent represents Centennial at the Denver Regional Council of Governments, where she serves on the Budget and Finance Committee. She previously served on Gov. Bill Owens’s transition team and his Civil Justice Taskforce.
Like most of the panel, Truhlar emphasized transportation, including improvement of traffic lights and the sidewalks that sometimes—but not always—accompany the city streets. She noted that many of Centennial’s walkways are too narrow and fail to comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act.
The advocate for a business-friendly city said she would not favor raising taxes.
“I don’t think we need it. I think the city is operating very effectively with what we have coming in now,” she said.
That was a point on which the entire panel agreed, though each of Truhlar’s opponents had arguments as to why they should get the incumbent’s job.
Tamara Maurer, a 34-year resident who has served on volunteer committees for both Centennial and South Suburban Parks and Recreation, noted her professional background in engineering for the Colorado Department of Transportation as an asset while the city continues to address its own multi-modal system.
“When you look at Arapahoe Road, there are five different agencies to run the road,” she said. “… I would look at turning toward more collaboration between the agencies. … With my knowledge and experience, I feel that’s going to be able to address one of the toughest issues that Centennial faces today.”
Likewise, accountant Nancy Nickless, who has lived in present-day Centennial since 1998, said her professional experience and “love of budgets and numbers” would be worth a vote for her proposed term in office. The numbers cruncher for the Anschutz Medical Campus, who is finishing her master’s in public administration, said her top issue would be smart development.
“We have a lot of land and we need to make sure that we make wise choices whether we’re building residential or commercial, and that sort of filters into the infrastructure of the road systems,” she said.
Like his competition, Bennett Rutledge has experience in technical positions for large governmental organizations, as a retired self-described “IT geek” for the Federal Highway Administration.
Saying city voters had tired of “intrusive government,” Rutledge largely positioned himself as the district’s contrarian.
“Rather than have the right answer, I will be focusing on questions that will help evoke many answers [and] … undoing the things that previous City Councils have piled on. … [Residents] value not only monetary values, but wisdom, love and beauty that does not always conform to the issues of the Centennial City Council.”
The open District 4 seat representing far-east Centennial attracted three new candidates.
Marlo Alston, a 13-year resident, has served on Centennial’s Open Space Advisory Board and worked on issues before the state legislature, having even briefly launched a candidacy for statehouse a few years ago.
“I am that very aggressive and assertive person that will fight for you,” she said, noting particular emphasis on public safety, seniors’ issues and “job equality.”
“I have integrity, and when I put my mind to it I work well with everyone and I get the job done,” Alston said in closing.
Charlette Fleming, a volunteer chaplain at Sky Ridge Medical Center, a finance professional and a charter-school board member, has lived in Centennial since its 2001 inception.
She emphasized traffic, infrastructure, smart growth and roads and sidewalks, noting an anecdote about a man she has seen several times in a wheelchair.
“He was trying to get through the snow from the bus stop,” she said. “When I saw that, I was, ‘Oh my gosh, we need to do more about snow-removal efforts. Just on Sunday, I saw him again … not on the sidewalk, but in the street because our sidewalk has bumps in it.”
Businessman and attorney John Miquel, a more recent arrival to Centennial four years ago, has become a fixture at council meetings and positioned himself as the most studied and prepared of the District 4 candidates.
Miquel, who said he has served on both corporate and nonprofit boards, made a particular case for his familiarity with the city budget.
“You have to know it before you can tell everybody how much you’re going to spend,” he said. “… I’ve attended the budget workshops late into the night. … I’m the one who’s doing their homework. I’m the one who’s going to the City Council meetings.”
Miquel emphasized collaboration, traffic, open space and being “business-friendly.”
Districts 1 and 3
Two of Centennial’s districts are holding uncontested races.
Western District 1 incumbent Kathy Turley is running unopposed for re-election.
“I could write a paper on term limits, but I’m telling you it has taken me four years to find out really what’s going on,” she said. “Knowledge is power and I feel like I’m ready.”
Turley previously served on the elected Centennial Charter Commission and the city’s Senior Commission.
Political newcomer and businessman Mike Sutherland, a resident since 1994, also has no opponent in central Centennial’s District 3.
“We’re in the teenage years,” he said of 16-year-old Centennial. “… We’re at a turning point right now where we can continue on the upward trend or we can start to languish, and I don’t want to see us languish.”
Sutherland currently chairs the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission.
Mail-in Election Day is Nov. 7. Ballots are scheduled to be mailed around Oct. 16.
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