Cook: 'I take my hat off to him'

Cook: 'I take my hat off to him'

July 13th, 2014 by David Cook in Opinion Columns

David Cook

David Cook

Photo by Ashlee Culverhouse /Times Free Press.

I don't like resignation letters. Never have.

They can be so ... so ... polished. Reading one feels like looking at Pamela Anderson. Hard to know what's real and what's not.

Look at Jeff Cannon's recent letter of resignation to Mayor Andy Berke. It's 11 sentences long, and nearly every one of them praiseworthy toward the mayor.

"It's because of your leadership and vision over the last few years as Mayor that I see more momentum in Chattanooga today than ever before," Cannon writes.

Two sentences later, the city's chief operating officer resigns.

"Humbly," he writes.

Then, he goes back to complimenting City Hall.

Doesn't add up to me. Seems like if you're resigning, you'd shine a little less limelight on your boss and more on yourself. Look at all the good work I did. Let us count the ways.

But that's Cannon for you.

His resignation is somewhat troubling. Cannon is the second man to resign from the COO position since Berke took office. First Andrew Kean, six months after inauguration. Now Cannon, nine months after that.

This means something. I'm just not sure what.

Is there a draining aspect to the job that chews people up?

Were they burnt out from the long hours?

Were they tempted by opportunities elsewhere they couldn't pass up?

Is there a false dichotomy of sorts within the political experience -- the real world versus the political world -- that conscientious people just can't stomach or square?

To me, Cannon was always a humanitarian before he was a politico; is someone built in such ways -- compassionate and less aggressive -- more susceptible to the gnashing grind of politics? Is politics only able to capture and keep for the long haul those among us that harden their hearts?

I sure hope not.

I do know that Cannon's resignation letter has one glaring problem in it.

He doesn't mention himself.

"I take my hat off to him," one man said outside Patten Towers on Friday. "Dude was all right."

Cannon's political baptism came during the Patten Towers evacuation in May 2013, when a basement fire caused the messy and emergency evacuation of hundreds of residents.

Cannon became the face of City Hall during that time. He spent days and nights with those residents, as they worried and prayed and sweated inside recreation centers and scattered hotel rooms across the city. Cannon didn't just stop by for a news conference. Didn't just hand out bottled water.

He stayed.

And they loved him for it.

"He was a nice man. He was concerned," said one Towers resident. (I went there to tell them the news.)

"He was respectful. He cared," said another.

"He was good people," said a third. "Dude was straight. He was in the house, even for a white boy."

After residents moved back into a renovated Towers, Cannon still came by to check on folks, like clockwork. Would sit and shoot the breeze. He knew people's names. Asked about their hardships.

I'll never forget seeing Cannon at the Brainerd rec center, where residents stayed during the evacuation. It was hot, with that feeling in the air of slight panic. We walked outside where nobody was looking, and he leaned up against the wall and hung his head.

And wept.

Sure, it was an exhausting time. And yes, the stress was incredible.

But those tears revealed the heart of the man.

"I hate the fact he quit. He used to come by every day and talk to us," said Angela Mills. "He thought a lot about the little people. He tried to help us all he could. He treated everybody equally."

This is not the stuff you put on your resume. Not the stuff mentioned in a resignation letter.

But it is the stuff that matters.

On the day his resignation went public, Cannon was with his sister-in-law during a doctor's appointment. (Please don't miss today's front page report on Deanna Duncan and her family.)

Maybe now he'll have more time to spend with them.

Last time I saw Cannon was Tuesday at City Council. Surrounded by all the fast-moving political rush, he seemed to be walking a little slower than everybody else, almost mon-like. Was it sorrow or peace?

At the time, I didn't know he was resigning.

I wish he wasn't.

Because City Hall just lost a good man.

Contact David Cook at or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at DavidCookTFP.