HOTSEAT- Cox on Council: Keeping the part-timers in line

In 1983, Jeanne Cox had a small catering business in Charlottesville that was so successful that before long she knew she had to either expand it or change jobs altogether.

When she heard of an opening for City Council clerk, Cox jumped at the opportunity. In those days, the Council seemed less like a governing body, she says, and more like a group of friends with more on their minds than just their part-time job running the City. She was happy to be the stable center of the shifting group.

Now– 23 years and many councils later– Cox finds the atmosphere less clubby, but her daily tasks have stayed pretty much the same. She takes the minutes at the twice-monthly City Council meetings and acts as a liaison between the public and the officials. All of this keeps the city running, but Cox prefers her other tasks such as organizing business and leisure trips between Charlottesville and its sister city in Italy, Poggio a Caiano.

Cox finds that working with Italians isn't perfect. "It's like moving mud with a pitchfork," she says. "Time just doesn't apply to them."

Most of all, Cox loves helping with the Drewary Brown "Bridge-Builders" award, an annual honor for local residents who have figuratively built bridges. Many of the awards are given to individuals bridging racial barriers in Charlottesville.

But perhaps the best part of Cox's job is the most bizarre, she says. For years she's been responsible for verifying that Charlottesville residents receiving foreign pensions are, in fact, alive and breathing. There's no medical exam or even signed paper– the pensioners just wander in, say hello to verify they're legit, and leave.

Cox says she isn't slowing down or retiring any time soon. But when she does, she says she won't miss the late nights every other Monday for the meetings.

"It gets old after 23 years," Cox says. "We come back to the office from 6 to midnight and then are back in early the next morning."

The popular belief around town that Cox is the real head of Charlottesville doesn't seem to hold water.

"It's totally bogus," Cox says. "Someone started it years ago, but it's just that the public feels comfortable calling me. I'm not a bureaucrat cutting through red tape; I've been here long enough to get things done."

Age: 55

What brought you here? Graduate school for my husband

What's worst about living here? Traffic

Favorite hangout? Home

Most overrated virtue? Patience

People would be surprised to know: I used to ride in rodeos.

What would you change about yourself? I'd be more photogenic.

Proudest accomplishment? 36 years of marriage

People find most annoying about you? I tend to get involved in things I should probably stay out of.

Whom do you admire? My daughter, Ara Duszak

Favorite book? No best book of all time, but in the last few years I'd say The Secret Life of Bees

What causes you to rant? People who back into parking spaces

Biggest 21st-century thrill? My two grandsons, Cason and Tyler

Biggest 21st-century creep-out? Government intrusion (i.e. Patriot Act)

What do you drive? Toyota Camry

In your car CD player right now? Les Mis when I travel

Next journey? Colorado for a family reunion

Most trouble you've ever gotten in? I've avoided getting into trouble by not answering questions like this.

Regret? I prefer to accept things and move on rather than dwelling on regrets.

Favorite comfort food? Good bread

Always in your refrigerator? White wine

Must-see TV? None

Favorite comic strip? For Better or Worse

Describe a perfect day. Boating, fishing, reading, relaxing at the river with family or friends. Cooking a great meal in the evening.

Walter Mitty fantasy? Owning a private jet and beach-front property on a tropical island

Who'd play you in the movie? Ingrid Bergman (Yes, I know she's unavailable, but it's my fantasy!)

Most embarrassing moment? Having 80 people show up for a reception for which the restaurant totally failed to prepare.

Best advice you ever got? Pick your battles.

Favorite bumper sticker? Practice random kindness and senseless acts of beauty.

Jeanne Cox