In his first year as Centennial city manager, John Danielson has been the quiet engine behind the city's movement toward its second decade as a vibrant, new municipality.
In 12 short months, the former interim city manager of Atherton, Calif., has reorganized city staff, made key hires and squeezed more than $250,000 back into the city coffers through vendor contract re-negotiation.
“It's been a good year,” said Danielson, who took the city's helm May 1, 2012. “This has been a good council to work with, good community, and there have been very few really adversarial kinds of situations — which is always a good gauge of where you stand.”
Focused on the future of Colorado's 1oth most populous city, Danielson reiterated his commitment to leveraging Centennial's core competencies, smart planning and creating a desirable place for both family and business.
Roads not sexy, but important
According to Danielson, the foundation of a great city rests on its infrastructure.
“Roadways and infrastructure are the most valuable asset that a city will ever own by far,” he said. “Its value is in the hundreds of millions of dollars, and if you look not only at the cost of the asphalt, but at the underlying easement and utilities that are underneath, it's a biggie.”
Danielson said the city has committed to maintaining a consistent pavement maintenance index (PMI), a type of roadway condition snapshot, over the next 20 years.
“Roadways aren't sexy, but they're necessary,” he said. “Sure, we'd all rather go buy a new sofa rather than painting the house, but if you don't paint the house, it suffers.”
From a scale of 1 to 100, with 100 being equivalent to new, Danielson said the city has elected to maintain a PMI of 75 in perpetuity.
“That's kind of unheard of,” he admitted. “Of course, current city council can't tie the hands of future councils, but they can set a culture and a precedent.”
Centennial has currently committed $6 million per year to maintaining roads at the 75 or above level.
“And when it comes to snow removal, not only did our snow route optimization program improve our ability to plow a town, it actually enabled us to do more,” said Danielson. “In the past year since I've been here, we've added 93 miles of roadway that previously would not have been plowed.”
“We've added more miles at the same price per pass and we renegotiated our contract with CH2MH, which took another $250,000 off the contract on top of that,” Danielson said.
Last summer, the city also purchased a former lumber mill near Eagle Street, paying $2.75 million in cash for the 9-acre concrete facility.
Danielson said the city is eyeing it as possible source of revenue, locating contractors, renting office space and, perhaps, even a new community room.
Also on Danielson's radar is a strong focus on attracting and retaining business.
Well-maintained roads, improved traffic patterns, an improved land development code and creating a user-friendly city government are key, he said.
“We care about a business staying here; it's our lifeblood,” he said. “We have had a lot of positive feedback about how easy it is to do business with Centennial — especially from the mom-and-pop kind of businesses. We truly have a vested interest in them staying here and being successful.”
And it seems to be working.
Danielson points to the fact that interest in rezoning into Centennial has increased.
“We've had some businesses that are not part of the city ask to come in, like Rock Bottom Brewery, J. Alexander's and REI,” he said. “They all are becoming parts of the city because they want to.”
Sense of identity
Danielson confesses Centennial's unusual geographic layout presents a significant challenge to creating an identity, but he said it's not impossible.
In fact, he feels the city's Centennial Center Park is well on its way to becoming a Colorado destination.
“We think there is the early beginning of a civic center here and opportunity to expand,” he said. “We think this little park is starting to put Centennial on the map.”
Danielson said the city has had multiple queries regarding the park, including queries from the Obama administration and the Romney campaign.
“They've all heard it's a great little park.”
He also hinted at the possibility of a new civic center.
But for Danielson, the sense of identity is more than a physical structure; it's also an attitude.
“I think we are starting to get the niche that we are a little different; we are a little bit innovative and we little bit customer service oriented,” he said. “We want to prove that government can be efficient and can move quickly without getting stuck in a rut.”
Improvements in staffing have taken city council meeting down to 90 minutes from five to six hours and Danielson said there are countless other opportunities for continued efficiency.
“I think folks know we have the ability to turn on a dime,” he said. “I just don't know too many other cities of 100,000-plus people that runs with only 50 people.”
Danielson receives $180,000 in annual compensation for the duration of the five-year contract. He also elected not to accept a $400 monthly vehicle allowance.