Cotterell grew up in Miami and joined the U.S. Marine Corps after high school
in 1961, serving in the Fleet Marine Force Pacific as a naval gunfire observer.
He returned to Miami and attended Miami-Dade Junior College 1965-66. Cotterell
began his newspaper career during that time as a copy clerk at The Miami Herald.
Press International, then the second largest news wire service, offered
Cotterell a job in Columbia, S.C., where he became a reporter in January,
1967. He later covered government and
politics in Raleigh, N.C.; Birmingham, Ala.; Tallahassee, Miami and Atlanta for
1984, Cotterell returned to Tallahassee with the wire service, and in 1985 he
moved to the Tallahassee Democrat,
initially as a general assignment reporter and, within six months, joined the Democrat’s state capitol bureau. Between
his first stint in Tallahassee with UPI, 1969-74, and his 27 years with the Democrat, Cotterell covered the
campaigns and administrations of eight governors and countless state Cabinet
officers, members of Congress and other state officers in Florida. With months
of reporting on Gov. Lawton Chiles’ efforts to privatize processing of state
employee health insurance claims, Cotterell was instrumental in bringing about
legislative changes in how the state contracts for “outsourced” services.
During the Jeb Bush administration, he wrote a series of stories about
privatization of state human resources management with a company known as
Convergys, including computer security breaches and improper processing of
computer records by subcontractors in India. This reporting led to legislative
reforms in Bush’s aggressive drive to privatize state government services.
won a few minor awards and was honored by various service organizations, but he
made a point of not entering contests -- believing that, except for truly great
public service projects, journalists spend too much time handing out awards
for, basically, doing their jobs.
retiring from the Democrat in 2012,
Cotterell continued covering the capitol part-time for various publications but
returned to the Democrat to resume
writing columns in 2013, and he also writes occasional editorials for the
newspaper, focusing on state government and politics.