Ballantyne’s Cooksey reflects on his service

Representing a heavily Republican district as a minority on a heavily Democratic Charlotte City Council hasn’t been an easy task for District 7 Councilman Warren Cooksey.

Cooksey, a Republican who didn’t seek re-election this season, has served three terms on Charlotte City Council, but will exit Dec. 2 when councilman-elect and fellow Republican Ed Driggs will take the seat.

Cooksey moved to Charlotte in 1995 and didn’t waste much time before diving headfirst into politics. He quickly joined the Mecklenburg County Republicans, where he served as secretary, vice chairman and treasurer. He also served on the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Planning Commission from 2000 to 2007 – an experience he said helped prepare him for city council, in addition to serving in various other capacities.

But now, Cooksey, who previously worked as a finance officer, is looking to put more focus on his personal career. And while his future in politics is still unclear, he’s proud of the work he accomplished on council, as difficult as it may have been trying to keep tax rates low, dealing with a call by some to de-annex Ballantyne from Charlotte and everything else that popped up in the last few years.

“Often times, votes would be 10 to 1 or 9 to 2 on council, and I was on the losing end of those votes,” Cooksey said. “With that said, I do believe I have had a significant impact in my six years, like stopping the tax hike last year – I got to be part of the team who beat it back, for at least one year, that is.”

Other accomplishments Cooksey is proud of include pushing for the city’s new high growth entrepreneurship policy, a program he said will benefit businesses looking to move or expand to Charlotte. The policy calls for raising awareness of entrepreneurship in Charlotte, encourages the city to create innovative ways to be customers for start-up businesses, pledges to help fund a foundation on entrepreneurial development through education and addresses how the city should help the University of North Carolina at Charlotte in entrepreneurship programs as the school grows to be a research university, Cooksey said.

Cooksey, who calls himself a policy-guy, also is proud of the water-sewer rate methodology he helped research and put into place.

“That was a pretty fun, significant thing – not a popular thing to talk about because nobody likes their water rates,” Cooksey said.

But over the years, there are some things he would have done differently, Cooksey said, like better connecting to specific neighborhoods and homeowners associations. While an introvert at heart, talking and networking with numerous constituents proved to be a difficult task for Cooksey. He’s loved attending social events and ceremonies like police and fireman recruit class graduations, Ballantyne Breakfast Club meetings and his Friday morning coffee meetings. He’s proud of the initiative he helped start with Ballantyne Breakfast Club leader Ray Eschert – starting to create a sense of community for south Charlotte’s old and new residents.

“You have so many people in the district that are very recent arrivals to Charlotte,” Cooksey said, adding other parts of Charlotte already have a sense of history and community while District 7 is still in progress. “My hope is that Driggs is a little bit more aggressive in reaching out to the HOAs and other community groups. I channeled all that energy into the Friday morning coffee meetings. While I had 10 to 15 people a week, it’s not a broad enough reach.”

Cooksey’s future in politics is still unclear. While he can still be involved in policymaking whether on the council or not, representing Charlotte residents has by far been the most rewarding part of the job.

“Whether I’m ever elected again or not, I can still be involved in policy. I just won’t have a vote on it. But I won’t be the representative of 770,000 people, and I’m going to miss that.”

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