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Cernanec looks back and forward

Former District 3 councilmember, mayor shares thoughts after loss


District 3 Littleton City Councilmember Phil Cernanec lost his re-election bid to newcomer Carol Fey in a contentious race. Cernanec was first elected to council in 2009, and was re-elected and appointed mayor in 2013. We caught up with Cernanec, a retired financial planner, after he wrapped up one of his regular community bike rides.

What do you feel you accomplished?

I look back on a lot over eight years on council. (Former City Councilmember) Bruce Stahlman and I said we would take on economic development, and the council gave us a budget of zero. We worked with the DU Graduate School of Marketing. They looked at our communication technology, and that has cascaded into much more lively engagement of the citizenry and website updates.

That was a catalyst for some of the outreach we did, such as Coffee with Council and the Meet Greet & Eats. We weren’t just sitting at City Center waiting for people to come talk to us. We got out into the neighborhoods.

I really enjoyed the National Night Out and HOA meetings. I think I had over a thousand conversations with people over a cup of coffee. I hope everyone felt heeded at least. I suppose there’s a difference between being heard and being heeded.

We increased the activity around grants so we had more dollars to look at specific items, such as dealing with our light rail stations and transit oriented development. We set the stage for a study of Santa Fe Drive that can lead to grants to deal with congestion.

Getting local cities and counties together to talk to CDOT is one of the things we’re positioned for, but that will require attention going forward. We have good relationships with Douglas and Jefferson counties. A lot of our traffic congestion is people passing through the city. These are regional issues.

The look that we’ve taken at housing has helped us identify important issues. What’s going to be done with it is up to the new council. I think what we did as far as outreach and citizens and business surveys was constructive in helping us prioritize.

Commissioning a rewrite of the comprehensive plan is a good step. Folks have been surprised by the processes and standards. We need a vision and a rewrite of our comprehensive plan together with the codes and ordinances and land use. The next step is significant public engagement, and that’s a challenge no matter what jurisdiction you talk with. But done well and done right, it produces good results and a broader understanding of the issues before the city.

What was challenging or surprising?

I was challenged by the speed it takes from policy being set to implementation. Being in a position to look for immediate results was challenging. Folks tend to think things get done by council snapping its fingers. That’s not how civics operate in Colorado.

Anything you regret or feel you left unfinished?

The rewrite for the comprehensive plan, something I advocated early on, was conceptually supported by others but it took until this year for us to set aside budget dollars to look at that. The confluence of money set aside, staff in place, and interest on the council to take that to the next level are important. It’s likely there will be a gap between the capital budget and needs. We never got around to grappling with that. It’ll be an interesting challenge for the next council.

Why’d you lose the election?

I think Carol (Fey) had a great strategy. She utilized and mobilized Democrats, and I’m a Republican. I’m not necessarily a Trumpite, but being identified with the Republican Party was a detriment on one side. There are folks on the other side that are upset with change and growth and development. Council didn’t have control of all of that, but she attributed those activities to me and council. She’s advocated for property rights, but has stated a stance against other property rights, such as use by right.

It’s tough to get folks in the middle to come out in an off-cycle election. She didn’t leave me enough room in the middle.

What’s next?

No big decisions, at least until January, but I continue to serve as the chair for the Advisory Committee on Aging for the eight-county area. My wife Cathy and I are also members of Citizens for Space Exploration. We’ll be going to Washington in May.

We’re both involved in a number of nonprofits. Any bigger decisions will come later. I’ve been approached by a number of folks, but I’m taking a nice vacation next week and it’ll just be nice to spend time with my wife.

I never say I’ll never run again. I initially ran because I was asked. I’ll see what the climate is like. I love Littleton and have been involved and will continue to serve in different ways.

I’m involved in Rotary, and we’ll see where that goes. I have connections around the region as well. I’m one of those screwy people who’s actually been in all 64 counties in Colorado, but I don’t have any statewide aspirations at this time.

I’m excited about the new council.


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