Walter Cooke, a U.S. Army veteran, local attorney and long-time resident of The Woodlands Township, has announced he is seeking a seat on township’s board, saying he has, “run out of excuses,” and that it is, “time for me to step up and run for the township board.”

Cooke is vying for the Position 5 seat on the board, currently held by soon-to-be retiring director John McMullan. Having resided in The Woodlands for 29 years with his wife and children, Cooke said he had long thought about seeking a seat on the board, but had not followed up on his goal in prior years.

“I often considered running for the township board, but in the past there were always more important things to do,” Cooke said. “Now, however, I have run out of excuses. Time for me to step up and run for the township board which will allow me, if elected, to give back to this wonderful community which provided the Cooke family with such a great place to live, play, work and learn.”

With a long list of community experience under his belt, Cooke said he feels he has numerous strengths that would, if he is elected, help him govern the community. Cooke was, in 2005, honored as an Interfaith Hometown Hero, and he also served on The Woodlands Economic Development Partnership board and on the boards numerous nonprofit agencies, including the Montgomery County Youth Service, The Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion and The Woodlands Symphony Orchestra.

He said his skills of reasoning, his historical knowledge of the community and his prior public service in various sectors would make him a good director. Cooke is a 1968 graduate of the University of Texas, after which he served two years in the U.S. Army, receiving an honorable discharge. He graduated from the University of Texas School of Law in 1973 before entering legal practice in 1974.

“Law school and practicing law for 45 years have taught me how to think logically, to identify facts germane to an issue and to make a decision based on the facts. This skill set equips me to act in a rational, instead of an emotional, manner when challenged by the many issues, big and small, faced by a Township director,” he explained. “Living in The Woodlands for 29 years and representing major community players such as The Woodlands Association, the Development Review Committee, the Community Standards Committee and the Town Center Improvement District, the predecessor of the township, have given me a window into how this community operates which should equip me to understand the historical context of issues coming before the board for resolution and to make better decisions.”

Cooke said he feels there are many issues facing the township, but said three big issues are priorities if he is elected to replace McMullan: incorporation, determining who will replace retiring township President and General Manager Don Norrell — who is retiring at the end of April 2020, but has agreed to stay as a consultant for one year following his retirement — and what Cooke described as, “final separation from the developer,” referring to The Woodlands Development Co. and the Howard Hughes Corp., which owns and controls much of the community.

“The board must decide on incorporation as soon as possible. In my view, incorporation should not be pursued at this time because the cost to the taxpayer of incorporation far exceeds any marginal benefit that taxpayers might gain,” Cooke said. “In fact, I am not aware of any benefit from incorporating at the present time.”

As for his other issues, Cooke said how Norrell is replaced, and by whom, is an important issue because he views the current role of township president and general manager vastly different than that of a city manager, which — if The Woodlands incorporates — would be the new leader of the new city.

“A decision on incorporation must be made soon because the decision impacts finding a replacement for Norrell, who will retire in April 2020. The job description of a city manager differs greatly from that of a community manager,” Cooke added. “The selection of Don’s replacement is too important to put off until the last minute. This means incorporation must be shelved so that a job description for Don’s replacement can be developed and the search for his replacement begun.”

As for the township’s complicated relationship to The Woodlands Development Co., Cooke said there are numerous what he described as “community assets” owned by the developers, which he said should be transferred to the township.

“Examples are ownership of access easements, of Lake Woodlands and of the Waterway. The board should accelerate efforts to secure these rights,” he said. “Sooner or later, Howard Hughes Corporation will sell its interest in The Woodlands and we may not know of the sale until after the sale closes. Better to secure those rights as soon as possible instead of having to negotiate with one or more new developers.”

The township election is Nov. 5, with the candidate filing period continuing until Aug. 19. Residents who may want to opt to be a write-in candidate have until Aug. 23 to file candidate papers with the township to appear on the ballot as a write-in.

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