St. Robert alderman seeks re-election to sixth term on city council
By: Darrell Todd Maurina
Posted: Monday, April 6, 2009 11:58 pm
ST. ROBERT, Mo. (April 6, 2009) — While five St. Robert elected positions are on Tuesday’s ballot, the only one being contested is the Ward I seat of longtime Alderman Theresa Cook.
Cook faces a challenge from a neighbor, Charles V. Slider, who seeks to unseat Cook after 10 years in office. Slider could not be reached for comment.
She currently serves as the city’s mayor pro-tem, filling in for Mayor George Sanders when he’s absent.
Cook said she’s much more experienced than her opponent.
“I have been on every committee, I have been instrumental in obtaining funds for the firefighters and patrolmen, I have fought to maintain benefits for our employees,” Cook said. “The person who is running against me, I don’t remember him being at any of the meetings, or volunteering for anything in the city. I am not saying he will not be a good person, but he has not been there.”
However, Cook said she’s glad Slider decided to run.
“The fact that he wants to be on council, I applaud that,” Cook said. “A lot of people who do not run complain about things but do not try to benefit their community, so at least he is trying to do that.”
Other positions on the St. Robert ballot are Mayor George Sanders, Ward II Alderman Gene Newkirk, Ward III Alderman Allan Johannsen, and Ward IV Alderman Bill Shaw. All are running unopposed and all are running for two-year terms.
Cook and her husband, fellow alderman Ralph Cook, are both St. Robert natives. That’s unusual in an Army community, and while Cook was born in St. Robert, she spent 10 years out of the area while her husband served 22 years in the Marine Corps. She now works as a payroll and benefits specialist for the Waynesville R-VI School District, from which she graduated in 1977.
Cook said she applies the same principles as a St. Robert alderman that she applies as a Waynesville school employee.
“The first priority we have is our staff, our employees; we want to ensure that their pay, their benefits, their compensation is at least as good or better as the area around,” Cook said. “Then we want to make sure we take care of the city infrastructure, our code. We want to make sure we have the best rates possible for utilities for our cities. While we are not here to make money, we want to make sure we don’t go broke, either.”
Key priorities for serving the community in St. Robert include activities for children and youth, she said.
“The role of a city alderman is to listen to the community and bring their views to the board and work with the city to make sure we can take care of needs to the best of our ability,” Cook said. “Some things we cannot take care of immediately and are put on a list when we have money; some things we cannot do because they are not possible, but we will try to answer our constituent’s concerns and resolve them the best that we can.”
One way to get more money is to apply for grants and other funds from state and federal sources, and Cook said the decision of St. Robert to join the Meramec Regional Planning Commission has been a major benefit for the city. Cook serves as one of St. Robert’s delegates to that organization’s board.
“It has been the best thing for the city to be accepted to MRPC. We have been able to get comprehensive plans going and it has been wonderful for us. I want to finish the work that we have started and ensure that our city receives everything possible for our citizens,” Cook said.
Other community organizations in which Cook is involved include the Marine Corps Wives’ Auxiliary, St. Robert Bellarmine Roman Catholic Church, the Certified Teachers’ Association, the Missouri State Teachers’ Association, regional, state and national affiliates of the National Association of Education Office Professionals.
“I have been a lifelong volunteer in the Marine wives association, with abused women, with women and children’s organizations, with school district organizations,” Cook said. “I have 10 years experience as an alderman, and those have been progressive years of experience. I have not stood idly still. I have stood in the place of the mayor, I have spent my experience as an asset to the city and I want to continue that.”
Cook, who turned 50 shortly before the election, said she’s seen tremendous growth in St. Robert and many changes, most of which have been positive.
“I like that we are a small town but a big town at the same time,” Cook said. “We have so much going on in the city that it is not a small town anymore. I like the relationship that the citizens have in the area. It is not just St. Robert, it is St. Robert, Waynesville, Fort Leonard Wood, Dixon, Crocker, Richland. We all work together in the county.”
Competition between communities can be healthy, but that isn’t always the case. Cook said she’d like to see an end to some of the problems of competitiveness.
“I would like to change th mentality that we are only here for St. Robert, because we are not. We are here for everybody,” Cook said.
Key examples of that include attracting industry to the area that would provide better jobs for spouses when one person in the family is assigned to Fort Leonard Wood, as well as improved park and recreational opportunities for children and families. While St. Robert has by far the largest budget of any municipal government in Pulaski County, it’s heavily dependent on sales tax receipts that fluctuate based on deployments and the local economy.
“We are down $2.5 million from last year in our budget, so our budget is holding us back a little,” Cook said. “We can still pay our bills, we can still pay our budget, but our infrastructure has been put on hold. We need to try to get some development here and we need to work on that a lot more strongly.”
Cook said that concern about budget management was the reason she and her husband voted against making Alan Clark the St. Robert city administrator. Clark succeeded Norman Herren with three negative votes out of eight on the council, with Theresa Cook, Ralph Cook and Ed Spotts each voting “no.”
Few people know Clark better than the Cooks; Ralph Cook served with Clark in the Marine Corps including many years as a Marine instructor at Fort Leonard Wood.
“I have known Mr. Clark for 12 to 13 years; I knew him as a Marine and I have known his wife my whole life,” Theresa Cook said. “He is an exceptional person, and the qualifications are wonderful, but he did not have as much experience in the area of the budget. I felt we should get someone with more experience.”
However, Cook said she supports Clark now that he has obtained a city council majority and believes he will do “an excellent job,” especially in the public works duties that are most closely comparable to his prior work as an enlisted Marine Corps engineer.
Cook said she has deliberately put her city duties first and wants to see that continue.
“I like this city and will do anything for it,” Cook said. “I have given up a lot of my family life to be there for the city. That’s what they know I love to do.”