Deb Cook Serves as Town Manager
Writer / Christy Heitger-Ewing
It’s wonderful to have a town manager who is knowledgeable about economic infrastructure and community development, but it’s extra cool to have one who knows how to live off the land and appreciates life’s creature comforts.
Deb Cook, who grew up close to Morgan-Monroe State Forest near Lake Lemon, describes her dad as a pseudo-survivalist who taught his family how to hunt, fish and grow a prospering garden. They owned several acres and lived without indoor plumbing, central heat, a washer or a dryer.
“I remember my mother hanging laundry out in the winter, and when she brought our clothes in they were frozen solid,” Cook says. “I don’t want to go back to that lifestyle, but I could survive in the wilderness if I had to.”
Cook met her husband, Jim Staton, in 2008 when they were completing coursework through the University of Oklahoma Economic Development Institute.
“It’s like a boot camp,” Cook says. “You go three separate years. I was finishing a week-long session, and on the last day Jim worked up the nerve to introduce himself.”
The pair instantly hit it off and were married several years later. They now have five children and four grandchildren between them.
Every Friday night they enjoy a date night, rotating through different local restaurants for dinner. They frequent several of the establishments so often that the servers bring them drinks when they walk in because they know what the couple orders. They are avid walkers and regularly traverse the trails in Hendricks County like the B&O Trail.
“Moving is good for you, both physically and mentally,” Cook says. “It’s how I process things and clear my mind. If I have a complex issue at work I’m trying to solve, I get moving to get all the noise out of my head. Then things fall together.”
Walking also gives her the opportunity to interact with members of the community – everyone from children to teenagers and the elderly. Saturdays are spent taking six-mile walks with their German shepherd, Ragnar, then coming home to their Maine coon, Odin. “We’ve watched Viking lore way too much,” Cook says with a chuckle.
During her career, Cook, who holds degrees in business management and public management, has worked in economic and community development for the City of Bloomington as well as the City of Kokomo. She was CEO of the Kokomo Housing Authority before getting back into economic development.
In October of 2019 Cook and her husband bought a house in Brownsburg. In January of 2020 she was hired as the town’s economic development director. When the town manager left his post, she and the assistant town manager became co-interim town managers. In January of 2022 Cook took over as town manager, making her the first female to ever secure the position in Hendricks County. Cook notes that the Town Council’s priority is building the 3% tax base, which comes from commercial, industrial and retail development.
“Brownsburg has been a bit behind in that development compared to some of our neighbors,” Cook says. “With the tax caps, you get 1% for residential, 2% for multifamily and 3% for commercial/industrial/retail.”
Cook, who has a lot of experience with new development, came into this position with contacts. With that came success. Last year the town had almost $145 million committed in capital investment in real property. Personal property was about $12 million. That generates tax revenue to provide the amenities that residents want such as parks, pools and community centers. Historically, Brownsburg has been behind in building that tax base, so the goal is to build it, given that the majority of growth in Brownsburg has been residential.
“That’s great, but 1% with exemptions, even if you have a lot of it, with the tax caps it doesn’t generate the tax revenue to provide the services you really need,” Cook says. She and the Town Council are strategic about what they try to attract to Brownsburg.
“I don’t respond to any dirty manufacturing leads,” she says. “I want to keep a nice, clean development here. We have a lot of beautiful green space, and I don’t want to fill it with smokestacks.”
The Town Council has been very supportive.
“You couldn’t get anything done without all of us pulling together in that direction,” Cook says. “We just want to continue smart growth, and we’re looking forward to being able to provide those amenities that growth and that tax base will fund.”
Cook is thrilled to be serving as town manager because she loves immersing herself in the community, knowing that she’s making a positive difference.
“Economic development is about getting the tax base and capital investment, but at the end of the day it’s about people,” she says. “You’re creating job opportunities for folks that will change their lives.”
Human capital is precious because individuals spend money at other local businesses, thus supporting the hairdresser, the mechanic, the dance company and others. Many also bring their talent by volunteering, perhaps by coaching a youth league, serving as a Scout leader or helping out at a local church. Everyone brings different perspectives.
Cook has worked in the public sector all her life, and she acknowledges that it can be rough sometimes, with so many different perspectives and feelings on what should be prioritized.
“You’ll never make everyone happy, but I do the best I can,” Cook says. “I love that I’m helping to change my community for the better and effecting change from the inside.”