We are sitting in our home library with Winter Park City Commissioner Carolyn Cooper, whom we have known about 20 years. She tells us that she comes from a military family and lived in many areas in the U.S., Texas, South Dakota, Washington D.C., and Florida among many others.
After moving for the umpteenth time, she and her husband Ned were sitting in a restaurant across the street from the St. Mary Margaret School in Winter Park. The bell rang and the school day was over. The kids came out of the school and were walking home by themselves! No guards at the school, no parents worrying that someone would attack their children, and the kids were happy, cheerful, and carefree – what a community!
Carolyn decided that this was where she wanted to be. Her nomadic life ended. She has now been a Winter Parker for 22 years and she says she has loved every minute of it.
The time came when she felt she should give back and she decided to take part in municipal affairs. Carolyn has a master’s degree in systems management from USC and a second master’s in guidance and counseling. She also has taken many classes through the Florida League of Cities. She opined that she had skills for local service and that out of scale development was, and is, threatening our city’s way of life. She recognized that the value of our homes is directly linked to Winter Park maintaining its hard earned reputation as a community of distinction. Carolyn took the leap and became a Winter Park commissioner. As such, she tells us that our city is in the throes of enormous growth pressure.
For the past six years she has helped to hold the line on our taxes. She has also fought to restore the oak canopy that enhances the beauty of our streets, to put more police on the street, and voted against out-of-scale development that threatens Winter Park and congests our roads. But she said she still believes she has many more important things that need to be done.
In addition to her relationships at the local and regional level, she was presented with the Florida League of Cities 2015 Home Rule Hero Award for her advocacy in Tallahassee on behalf of Winter Park and the 400 municipalities in Florida.
Asked about her future activities, Carolyn says that she will continue to focus on the priorities the residents of Winter Park have expressed: increasing police presence in our neighborhoods; expediting the replanting our oak tree canopy; pursuing advanced technology to manage traffic congestion (by the way, U.S. Congressman John Mica has been invaluable in helping with this project); managing growth to achieve excellence and maintain community character; protecting and expanding the city’s open spaces; keeping taxes low and maintaining a healthy operating reserve for the city.
But there are other concerns, she said: the library issue, water conservation, and getting the community to consider drought tolerant landscaping. Carolyn says she’s learned a lot over the past six years and that the learning curve is steep; one needs to be well versed in the use of land use codes, community development districts, and comprehensive growth management plans. And even if it makes one uncomfortable, one must do thorough and thoughtful homework, show up, state a case, and do the job. One must have the courage to stand up even when one stands alone. Compromise is essential. One can’t be misled by those who insist that all must be of like mind. Respectful, fact-based debate is healthy and essential for good decision-making.
Carolyn closes our conversation by saying that she’s committed to fight for those things that define the very character of Winter Park. National Geographic Travel Magazine described Winter Park as a gracious town, an oasis in the runaway development in Central Florida.
Carolyn promises that she is committed to preserving those things that define the very character of our unique, beautiful city.