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Cooksey’s thoughtful voice to be missed

Republican commissioner, 51, spoke his mind in reasoned way

Neil Cooksey was a thoughtful and calm voice on a Mecklenburg Board of Commissioners that too often was mired in divisiveness. Cooksey, just 51, died Wednesday after a two-year fight with pancreatic cancer. The board, and Charlotte, will miss him.

We had high hopes for the Charlotte lawyer when he was elected to the board in 2008. Cooksey, who’d practiced law for more than 20 years, was a graduate of Davidson College and the University of Michigan Law School. He was a Republican who called himself a “common sense conservative” and promised to keep a close eye on the budget and taxes. He also was a certified mediator – someone who understood the value of common ground, or at least common civility.

The board needed that perspective, and Cooksey consistently approached the public’s business with reasoned and thorough consideration of issues and colleagues. He explained why more than once, including in 2011, when commissioners were embroiled in another spat. “Until we increase those trust levels,” he said, “it’s going to be difficult to get business done in Mecklenburg County.”

Cooksey was, however, unafraid to protest the wrongs he saw. He publicly chided CMS for budget trickery and the Department of Social Services for issues involving accountability and ethics. He also looked inward, criticizing the board for its failure to provide strong oversight with DSS.

That willingness to examine your own shortcomings – and not just others’ – is the mark of a strong public servant. Neil Cooksey was, and should be, an example for all to follow.

Elias could fulfill dreams

Congress needs to pass the DREAM Act, but Ric Elias, to his credit, isn’t waiting.

The founder and CEO of the Red Ventures Internet marketing firm is contributing $1 million to help undocumented kids attend college. Those kids are frequently ineligible for college financial aid and must pay out-of-state tuition rates, so even strong students sometimes can’t get a higher education.

Elias’ Golden Door Scholars Program will pay full tuition plus room and board for undocumented students to attend the college of their choice.

That could change the lives of students like Garinger High senior Pablo Orozco. His parents brought him here from Argentina when he was 5. Now he has a 4.4 GPA and is taking night classes at Central Piedmont Community College. Still, he has limited education options after graduating from high school.

Kids like Orozco are a victim of circumstance, and denying them an education hurts both their future and the country’s. Congress needs to pass the DREAM Act, giving students of high moral character a chance to further their education and become productive citizens. The legislation has enjoyed substantial bipartisan support over the years.

As generous as Elias’ gift is, a 5 percent annual distribution from his $1 million won’t put very many students through school. Here’s hoping that other corporations and individuals will see the value of Golden Door and expand it dramatically.

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