Mayor John L. Cook: ‘It was important to get involved in everything’

Five Tigard mayors (l to r): Thomas Brian (1987-88), Craig Dirksen (2004-2012), John L. Cook (2013-18), John E. Cook (1984-86) and Gerald Edwards (1989-94).
Five Tigard mayors (l to r): Thomas Brian (1987-88), Craig Dirksen (2004-2012), John L. Cook (2013-18), John E. Cook (1984-86) and Gerald Edwards (1989-94).

John L. Cook, who is retiring at the end of the year after serving as Tigard’s mayor for six years, knew he wanted to go into politics when he was a kid growing up in Tigard.

With his dad John E. Cook involved in the incorporation of the city in 1961, “I knew all the mayors in Tigard,” Cook said. “From the time I was 10 or 11, I was good at pounding (campaign) signs into the ground.  And I went to election parties – they were always fun.”

Cook had a good example in his family as his dad served on the city’s parks board and the City Council before becoming mayor and later served on the county parks board. “My goal was to be a (Washington) county commissioner or mayor or both,” Cook said.

And Cook was a natural leader, noting, “Whenever I joined a group, I became president or chairman – Boy Scouts, my church pastoral council, the Jaycees, the Oregon Association of Mayors – and if not, I was the treasurer. I was treasurer for 30 (political) campaigns and PACs (political action committees).”

Cook, who became an Eagle Scout, earned a degree from Oregon State University in business with a concentration in finance.

Cook has been married to his wife Terri, who is a CPA/controller for The Springs senior-living facilities, for 30 years, and they have two children – son Ryan, who is 26 and works as an actuary in Boise, and Shawna, 24, who lives at home and works as a pre-school special ed teacher in Vancouver.

The Cooks purchased a home in Tigard in 1988 in a small area east of Scholls Ferry Road that is in the Beaverton School District instead of the Tigard-Tualatin School District. At the time they didn’t think it would affect their family because they knew they would send their kids to Catholic schools.

“But we were not in the Tualatin Hills Parks & Recreation District or the Tigard-Tualatin Aquatic District,” Cook said. “We were on the wait list for both swim centers. We had to petition the Little League to get into Tigard.”

One of Cook’s passions was coaching, and he explained, “I coached youth sports for 23 years – including Little League baseball and softball, soccer, and boys and girls basketball. In high school I was the team manager for football, basketball and baseball. I sat next to the coach and learned the strategies.

“I kept score and watched everything. My rule of thumb for coaching is to put an expert next to you, and I made sure the assistant coach played the sport in college. I surrounded myself with people who had done it.”

Cook added that one of the most valuable lessons he learned from his parents was that “it was important to get involved in everything. They were on the school board and in the American Legion, Lions Club and (Tigard) chamber. They were named Tigard’s First Citizen and earned the Jim Hartman Award.”

In fact, the Tigard Area Chamber of Commerce’s First Citizen Award was named in honor of Cook’s father, John E. Cook, and recognizes people who have made in-depth, long-term contributions to the Tigard community over the years; the Jim Hartman From the Heart Award honors those who have dedicated their time and energy to a specific cause in the Tigard community, according to the chamber’s website.

Cook added, “I went on to also be named Tigard’s First Citizen in 1999.”

This year Cook was honored with the Oregon Mayors Association’s Leadership Award and the League of Oregon Cities’ James Richards Leadership Award.

“I didn’t seek out awards,” Cook said. “I just followed along. I grew up tagging along. When I wanted to get involved as an adult, I was already used to doing things. I picked up newspapers for recycling for the Lions, I flipped pancakes for the Knights of Columbus, I worked in the beer garden and souvenir stands at the balloon festival every June.

“Twenty-six years ago, in 1992, (Washington County Commissioner) Roy Rogers called me and said, ‘We want you to be on our budget committee,’ and I was appointed. The second year I became the chair, and I had been the chair for 18 years when I retired.”

Cook credits his parents for instilling in him the importance of volunteering and public service. “You get to know so many families, and they got to know me,” he said. “When I talk to kids, I tell them to volunteer. Six years ago, when I ran for mayor (to complete a two-year term), I won because of all the volunteering I had done.”

All those years of public service have not been without some spills and thrills, with Cook recalling that one year during the Tualatin Riverkeepers’ annual politicians’ paddle race on the Tualatin River between Cook Park and the Ki-a-Kuts Bridge, he swamped Roy Rogers’ canoe after he had just beat Tigard Mayor Alan Michelson.

Cook has worked as a certified public accountant since 1983 and has been a financial planner since 2003, noting, “CPAs were not allowed to also be financial planners, and in the early 2000s I got involved with working with the Legislature to get that changed.”

He is now a registered financial advisor and sells life insurance, explaining that he works about 40 hours per week year-round, whether or not it is tax season.

“There are pros and cons to working at home, but actually it’s been pretty cool,” he said. “Some of my clients love telling people, ‘The mayor is my CPA.’ You actually get to know a lot more people when you’re in public service. I have about 350 clients, and every year I lose 10 and gain 10.”

How has Cook managed to spend so much time volunteering while also working full time?

“I have worked at home since 1993,” he said. “I am self-employed, so I was able to be Mr. Mom. Working at home, I could volunteer because I had flexible hours. I could go on field trips and coach and take the kids to swim lessons. I would catch up on work evenings and weekends. My wife afforded me to do this.

“I used to spend about 20 hours a week volunteering, but as mayor I spend 40 or 50 hours a week. I ran as soon as my youngest was out of high school, and the 20 hours morphed into 40. My wife sees me 20 hours less a week, so I have promised her not to join a board or committee or become chair or run for office until the end of 2019. I have to make it through next year.”

However, Cook isn’t quitting public service cold turkey. After this year he will still be on the Tigard chamber’s Government Relations Committee and is still involved with the Westside Economic Alliance and the Oregon Department of Transportation’s Area Commission on Transportation.

“Next year I will serve as the past president of the Oregon Mayors Association giving advice and training,” Cook added. “I figure it will take a year to decompress, and I have a long ‘honey-do’ list of projects to do.”

The Cooks are embarking on a new project together – moving to a new home just outside Tigard in unincorporated Washington County, which means Cook did not qualify to run for another term. “It is 1 ½ acres, so there will be more yard work to do,” he said.

And the move finally puts them in the Tigard-Tualatin School District and a lot closer to Tigard High School.

“There are still a lot of events I want to go to at THS,” Cook said. “My dad always took me to THS football games, and I have season tickets to THS football and girls basketball. I try to make at least one game in each sport every year, so the kids and families know you’re connected. My dad sponsored Little League teams, and I sponsor THS theater and go to the plays. It’s important to show the non-sports kids that you support them too.”

Cook added that the activities it was hardest for him to give up when he became mayor were serving as a Boy Scout leader and a basketball coach.

“I coached the Valley Catholic freshmen girls basketball team,” he said. “There were 12 to 15 girls on the team, and I drove the team all over the state with all those girls singing and rocking the bus.”

As for accomplishments during his tenure, Cook lists the annexation of 13 “islands” in the city; paving the way for red-light cameras to be up and running later next year; visiting Washington, D.C., and Salem to lobby for funding, bringing in $60 million worth of grants; bringing economic development to the area east of Hunziker; revitalizing downtown Tigard and especially Main Street, including adding public art, a project headed by the Tigard chamber and Tigard Downtown Alliance; developing the Tigard Triangle (between I-5/Hwy. 217 and 99W) and River Terrace (west Bull Mountain); and completing the Lake Oswego-Tigard Water Partnership during his tenure that provides Tigard with its own water supply.

Cook also is proud of the “fireside chats” he initiated after becoming mayor, when he is available to the public for informal conversation once a month. “I learn what is going on, and people feel open about coming and talking to me about issues,” he said.

Cook added that he started presenting annual “State of the City” speeches by copying similar events in such cities as Tualatin, Beaverton and Hillsboro.

During Cook’s countless hours in meetings, at events, attending conferences and representing Tigard all over the U.S., he said he sees his job as “working the room” to get to know people and “planting seeds” that will grow in the future.

He recalled going to the Environmental Protection Agency to lobby in Washington, D.C., and the next year when he went back for a U.S. Conference of Mayors meeting, a man came up to him and said, “You’re the mayor of Oregon. I met you last year.” Cook added, “We ended up getting EPA grants.”

Asked if he is leaving big shoes to fill, Cook replied, “Mine are worn out. You should not follow in mine. Create your own. You don’t need to fill someone else’s shoes.”

With the Nov. 6 election results now known, Jason Snider will be replacing Cook as mayor in January.