Mr. Mayor, I'm sorry to do this. There's a question that needs answering, yet it's not one I necessarily enjoy asking.
But Mayor Littlefield, we can't close this door just yet.
How long did you know about Paul Page's behavior?
Two weeks ago, Page handed you his letter of resignation after five years as director of general services, a position you created that required him to report directly to you.
He had been under investigation since 2008 by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in connection with claims of sexual harassment and retaliation.
An independent investigation -- ordered by the city government -- also uncovered a history of aggressive, intimidating and foul behavior: lewd jokes and comments, solicitation for sex in exchange for promotions or raises and odd, inappropriate requests.
Like asking women to leave behind a collection of lipstick smudges on his office window.
Did you walk by that window? Did you ever see that window?
The EEOC states on its website that an employer (the city administration) can avoid liability when an employee (Page) harasses only if the employer can prove it "reasonably tried to prevent and promptly correct the harassing behavior."
In other words, Page is not the only one liable for harassment. If his supervisors knew of his behavior and did nothing, then the EEOC states they are liable, as well.
This is why this question matters so very much. You are the mayor -- our mayor -- and we want this city to shine.
Not dirtied up with a lawsuit. Not lacking moral credibility because sexual harassment was allowed at some of the highest levels of democratic government. Not aligned on the wrong side of the issue.
"He's expressed a desire to me to get out of the shooting gallery, which I can understand."
That's what you told reporter Cliff Hightower a few days before Page resigned. It sounds as if you're sympathetic toward Page, and I've yet to hear you make any statement expressing sympathy toward the victims in this case, or condemning harassment, once and for all.
Perhaps the citizens you represent could help. They could call city hall (423-425-7800) or appear before City Council (Tuesdays, 6 p.m.). They could email (email@example.com).
They could demonstrate, pray, fast, sit down and not get up. They could go as far as lysistratic non-action, a historically proven method (Liberia, Kenya) of nonviolent coercion. Women withhold sex until people in power meet their demands. (I hope it doesn't come to this).
But in the name of every female in this city and the men who stand with them, this question must be answered.
Did you know about Page's behavior? And do nothing?
David Cook can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
David Cook is the award-winning city columnist for the Times Free Press, working in the same building where he began his post-college career as a sportswriter for the Chattanooga Free Press. Cook, who graduated from Red Bank High, holds a master's degree in Peace and Justice Studies from Prescott College and an English degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. For 12 years, he was a teacher at the middle, high school and university ...