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When Cathy Noon shared a stage with Olympians, she knew her city had made it.Noon was aware that young Centennial was still forming an identity.“Who knows who we are?” Noon thought at the time.What once was a swath of unincorporated Arapahoe County had literally made its mark on the map, but was not yet prominent in the public eye.But when state legislators, Gov. John Hickenlooper and hordes of young fans converged on Centennial Center Park to celebrate Colorado's Olympic athletes in August 2012, Noon, mayor since 2010, knew it was a defining moment.“Suddenly, we have this incredible woman swimming her heart out, and it's 'Missy Franklin from Centennial, Colorado!' all over,” Noon said. It “was just an amazing moment — like, we are a city now. We have arrived. We had a community spirit. We needed that, and it carried us forward.”The journey from incipient suburb to innovative community was long, but Noon, 61, was there every step of the way.Noon has nearly reached the end of her term-limited eight years in the seat, and Stephanie Piko will be sworn into the post in January. But her long road through public life will give way to a retirement in which she'll stay engaged in local affairs."Centennial, we're just getting going," Noon said. "So, I'm excited for the future."Humble beginningsIn the late 1990s, when Noon and her husband bought a house in what would eventually become Centennial — in a neighborhood along East Arapahoe Road east of South Parker Road — she had no idea that the idea of founding a city was being discussed.“I just got drafted as a worker bee,” said Noon, whom neighbors asked to represent them on the Arapahoe County Council of Organized Responsible Development — a former group of neighborhood organizations — after she went to a homeowner's association meeting.Noon jumped into the fray as the push to create the city was well on its way, putting up fliers and “doing menial tasks” for the effort, she said. At the time, Greenwood Village was considering annexing land in parts of what is now Centennial. Citizens in the area were concerned about losing their self-determination and enlisted in a push that took more than two years, 100 town meetings and going through a process that ended in a Colorado Supreme Court ruling in July 2000 that green-lighted the election to form a city.Two months later, 77 percent of voters approved Centennial's formation — and Noon played a key role in getting the city off the ground. Members of ACCORD broke off and formed CenCON, or the Centennial Council of Neighborhoods, to keep citizens close to decisions about their city.CenCON was a sounding board for Centennial's government as it came up with different policies, said Noon, who was the organization's president and founder. Centennial had nearly no staff at the beginning, Noon said, and CenCON became a de facto information center for what was going on in the city.Years later, in 2007-08, Noon was a key player in the push to make Centennial a home-rule city — one that could follow its own charter rather than the statewide municipal code.Citizens voted to create a commission to establish a charter, and Noon became chair of the 21-member group.“It was a 10-10 tie between me and another person — we flipped a coin, and I won the coin toss,” said Noon, who stood at grocery-store tables and campaigned for the charter, which passed by a margin of more than 2-to-1. I “might not have been mayor if I had not chaired it.”That charter in part allowed the city to collect and audit its own sales tax instead of Colorado, Noon said — previously, hundreds of businesses were giving sales tax to cities like Aurora and Littleton because of Centennial's snaking boundaries and because mailing addresses from those other cities still existed in Centennial. Millions more dollars were then freed up to go to the city's public works, filling potholes and snowplowing, Noon said.Noon said it yielded “more autonomy and more self-determination, which is what the city was founded on.”Taking the helmAmid her ongoing civic efforts, Noon took an unsuccessful swing at running for city council in 2005. But that didn't slow her momentum — she ran for mayor in 2009 and won by more than 1,000 votes.She said hammering out the charter with 20 other citizens renewed her faith in the political system, and afterward, a fellow commissioner urged her to run for mayor.“My number one reason (for running) was that I wanted that charter to be implemented in the spirit in which it was written,” Noon said.Councilmember C.J. Whelan said there have been many times Noon helped him in challenging situations.“From times when we were both on CenCON and dealing with the review of development plans to our time together on council and my questions about dealing with other elected officials,” Whelan said, “I've often sought Cathy's advice and counsel, and she has always been there to give it honestly, thoughtfully and intelligently.”Candace Moon, another councilmember, has enjoyed working with Noon.“She has always put the city first,” Moon said. “Her ability to get to the heart of any matter is one of her strongest traits.”Lifelong 'joiner'Noon, who was involved in high school clubs as a teenager, has gone on to serve on the Metro Mayor's Caucus as chair, among several other local and regional organizations.“I'm an organizer and joiner by nature,” Noon said. “And it tends to be, whatever I get involved with, there's gotta be a better way to run it.”Originally from Maryland, Noon moved to Colorado in 1976 with her husband, Jim. She went to the University of Maryland before coming to the University of Colorado Denver — and studying theater education. She and her husband have owned a container and shipping supply business — coincidentally called Centennial Container, located in Denver — since 1985. The Noons lived in Aurora for 23 years before moving in 1999 to the Chapparalneighborhood in what would later become Centennial.Since then, Noon has learned one of the biggest challenges about being mayor is trying to satisfy everyone.“It's always a challenge to keep the focus on the city and keep everyone rowing in the same direction,” said Noon, the only at-large elected official in the city. It requires taking “the global view ... making decisions where some people are happy and some are not.”One of her best accomplishments, she said, was to make sure the city stays on a stable financial path after it was “just trying to survive” when it first formed.“The first few councils laid a really good foundation, and (after the recession) ... we set up projects and procedures to make sure our (finances) are well planned-out,” Noon said.The East Arapahoe Road widening in the eastern wing of the city is among her proudest projects.“It was the largest project we've been the lead on as a city,” said Noon, adding it had been in discussion since the 1990s. The success was in “planning for and saving for it ... we look at looking ahead."“It feels so good to not have people fear for their lives,” said Noon, noting the road's use as a thoroughfare and its spot in front of Grandview High School.Her husband had quite a few high points to list in her tenure — among them, the opening of IKEA, the event honoring Missy Franklin and opening Centennial Center Park, Centennial's first city-owned park, in 2012, which has since garnered local and national praise.“There are so many moments I remember — watching the reaction of people when she gives a speech or talk,” Jim Noon said. “People coming up to her on the street and telling her what a great job she is doing. I especially like the reaction of students when she talks to schools ... these are the kinds of things that make me proud.”A lasting legacyJohn Brackney — a former Arapahoe County commissioner and one of the five founders of Centennial who helped organize citizens toward incorporation — said Noon is one of the most important figures in Centennial's history.“She's done herself and our community proud,” said Brackney, who praised her ability to get the charter commission to nearly unanimously support the home-rule charter.Whelan said there are very few details that get by Noon.“Cathy's level of knowledge about our city is incredible,” Whelan said. “From the businesses that make up our city, to the names of HOA leaders, to deeply involved figures within our budget.”Noon's husband said Noon's being mayor hasn't been a huge shift in their lives.“We have both been so involved in other boards and groups that it just seems like another,” said Jim Noon, who added that adjusting to political life was seamless for his wife. “This one has been more fun, at least for me.”Noon said it's been a pleasure being mayor and sees a bright horizon for her city — she'd like to thank citizens for electing her not once, but twice."I just want to say thank you for the opportunity," Noon said. "It's been a pleasure — it's been so rewarding."
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