BY FREDA MIKLIN
On September 25, CenCON, described by its president, C.J. Whelan, as “an umbrella organization to the City of Centennial, in existence since the city’s founding, that works with all the HOAs and civic groups in the city,” held a forum for candidates for Centennial City Council.
Gerry Cummings, past president of CenCON, who also regularly directs candidate forums in her role as election forum coordinator for the League of Women Voters of Arapahoe and Douglas Counties, served as moderator.
Centennial District One is an open seat. The candidates are Amy Tharp and Andrew Spaulding.
In his introduction, Spaulding, a 31-year resident, said “The main topic of my campaign is to keep the city from not growing any greater,” noting, “The citizens of district one want to be left alone.” He pointed to his involvement in several civic groups over the past 30 years, including Citizens for a Better Centennial.
Tharp, a 34-year resident, participated via Zoom from Prague, where she was on a retirement trip planned prior to the forum being scheduled. She pointed to her years teaching at three area LPS elementary schools, where she “worked collaboratively with hundreds of parents in the community,” as a teacher and an instructional coach, where she mentored other teachers, guided the direction of schools, served as liaison between school administrators and teachers, synthesized student data, and chaired multiple committees.
District Two candidates are incumbent Christine Sweetland and challenger Rick Rome. A third candidate, Kevin Biehl, dropped out of the race but not in time to keep his name from appearing on the ballot.
Rome described himself as a practicing civil engineer for 30 years who has worked with several cities on aspects of development projects. He also pointed to the communications skills he learned as a member of the Toastmasters Club.
Sweetland, a 22-year city resident, pointed to her experience as a small business owner/real estate appraiser, leading to her “understanding of how we can support businesses in our community.”
District Three candidates are incumbent Richard Holt and challenger Valdan Vandemark.
Holt, also a 22-year resident, talked about his experience volunteering in the Fox Ridge neighborhood prior to being elected. Since being elected in 2019, he has served on the Open Space Advisory Board and as liaison to Parks & Rec for South Suburban. He also chairs the Fiberworks Commission, responsible for the 50 miles of fiber in Centennial.
Vandemark hails from Boulder and moved to Centennial in 2018. He said, “I run a business and, in that business, I’m responsible for thousands of details every day and managing the people, managing everything,” adding, “I went back and listened to the city council meetings for the past couple years…There’s no one that manages the business…the way I think about business. While my opponent is very well liked, I will do a better job of representing the citizens of District three…You can count on me to be a team player.”
Incumbent Donald Sheehan is running unopposed in District Four. Although he participated in the forum, we did not include his responses (many of which were informative and can be found via the recording of the forum on the CenCON website) in the interest of limiting our coverage to information that will help voters choose the candidate who best represents their vision for the city.
Asked their priorities or goals if elected, Tharp named finding out constituents’ priorities by holding town halls and meet-and-greet events, adding, “What I’ve already heard (from) people is that housing, unsheltered neighbors, and public safety are…important.” She noted she has been endorsed by the Homebuilders Association of Metro Denver and is focused on “attainable housing for young professionals, the missing middle class, and the aging population.”
Spaulding said, “Hold the line on city government growth,” pointing to his involvement with the affordable housing committee and the civic association, adding, “I know what the citizens of District One want. They are willing to abide by the rules but they don’t want to be told what to do.”
Sweetland talked about her role as part of the working group of the Centennial housing study undertaken two years ago, noting the goal is to “take care of the people who are here today, our aging population, and those who want to be in Centennial.” She also talked about being a strong advocate for open space and the High Line Canal.
Rome pointed to public safety and said, “Crime is a problem.”
Holt said, “Public safety is job one,” adding, “Fiscal responsibility—we keep Centennial lean. We have no debt and only 80 full-time employees.” He also talked about land use issues, noting the state tried to take away Centennial’s home rule rights last year, which the city fought successfully.
Vandemark also named public safety, noting two of his vehicles have been broken into during the past six months, adding, “My neighbor’s house got shot three times from South Quebec…His front door got pried open with a crowbar a few weeks later…As far as I know, the Arapahoe Sheriff’s county (sic) has never followed up with him about that.” On housing, he said, “Most of our children and grandchildren will not be able to afford to live in Centennial.”
Asked if they support higher density housing and whether the city’s infrastructure could support it,
Spaulding said, “Development needs to happen but it needs to be done right…We need to maintain the character of our neighborhoods.”
Tharp said it is important to carefully research where higher density housing is put and the Centennial City Council does that. She talked about making sure housing is available for young professionals in the community so they could live near their work.
Rome said he understood the impacts of higher density housing and, “We need to have ownership” but state law makes building condos difficult because there is no statute of limitations on developer responsibility.
Sweetland responded to the question about whether she supports higher density development with, “It depends—there are areas in our community where it is doable,” pointing to The District as a good example. She also noted she sponsored a resolution that was passed unanimously by the Centennial City Council asking the state to act on construction defects legislation “because of its impact on housing affordability” and the difficulty in finding somewhere to downsize when children grow up.
Holt said, “We have a housing crisis…If high-rises were one of the options, we’d have to look at it,” if they are “along I-25 and near light rail,” as is The District.
Vandemark answered, “Yes. I really like what they did at Southglenn. It didn’t necessarily work out with the way the units were built and priced,” noting that higher density housing “could be a great benefit to the community.”
To access the entire forum, contact CenCON president CJ Whelan at email@example.com or go to: https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/1uaMtMs5lXgyM-7jwFZeIhW1ykD5VrMDx?usp=sharing.