Centennial's chief innovation officer connects the dots

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Giving a nod to the corporate world, the City of Centennial has hired a chief innovation officer to reduce costs and increase efficiencies.

Dave Zelenok, Centennial’s former director of public works and interim city manager, fills the position created by City Manager John Danielson last fall. Zelenok says he’s on a mission to connect people, ideas and resources that will help maximize taxpayer dollars.

“The essence of the City of Centennial is innovation,” said Danielson, who points out that running a city of more than 100,000 people with only 52 full-time employees is something pretty innovative in itself.

Zelenok admits his title sounds a bit unconventional, but describes his position as something akin to orchestra conductor, working across multiple departments to “break down information silos.”

“It’s my job to help shape and advocate innovative thinking,” said Zelenok. “I look at the big picture and more or less connect the dots to give the city the most value for its taxpayer dollars.”

With degrees in engineering from the Air Force Academy and the University of Texas at Austin, Zelenok oversees multiple public works and telecom projects designed to keep the city “on the cutting edge of technology.”

One such project comes in the form of a fiber-optic cable and conduit project running the length of Arapahoe Road from approximately Interstate 25 to Parker Road. Zelenok said by partnering with the Colorado Department of Transportation on the project, the city’s new intelligent traffic center will benefit from the upgraded connection, and taxpayers will save significantly on the cost of materials and installation.

“Dave is the perfect person to take on this role,” Danielson added. “He is innovative by nature, has an impressive background and oversaw the largest conversion of public works services from public to private in the nation for Centennial.”

With an annual salary of $152,000, Zelenok has no staff, preferring to work directly with stakeholders himself.

As for how he’s graded on performance, Zelenok says it comes down to numbers, referring to Danielson’s challenge of delivering a 20-to-1 return on his salary to the city.

“This was a friendly challenge I presented to Dave,” said Danielson. “A successful innovation officer should always have a return on investment of more than their salary. Dave has clearly showed he is the right person for this job by implementing and pursuing projects and partnerships with a potential ROI (return on investment) of nearly $100 million.”

To meet Danielson’s challenge, Zelenok will need to deliver a little more than $3 million dollars in city savings.

“There are a lot of good ideas out there, but a good idea is not innovative until it can be executed and implemented,” he said. “We can sit around and talk about it, but unless it happens, we don’t have value for our money.”

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