City attorney John Cook retires after 30 years

Lake Okeechobee News/Cathy Womble
Attorney John Cook is surrounded by friends and family at the retirement reception held in his honor on Dec. 17.

OKEECHOBEE — After serving as the Okeechobee City attorney for over 30 years, John Cook Esq., has formally retired from his position. A reception brunch was held in his honor on Tuesday, Dec. 17, and was well attended by both former and present colleagues as well as others in the community who wished to pay their respects. The reception was catered by Brown Cow Sweetery, and after everyone enjoyed the food and fellowship, former Mayor James Kirk was the first to speak about the many years he and Mr. Cook worked together.

“John Cook was my right hand man for 26 years,” he said. “His legal advice kept us out of a lot of trouble over the years. He did a great job as city attorney and will be hard to replace. I could call him any time, day or night, and he was right there. We didn’t deserve him, but I am glad he served anyway.”

Mr. Kirk read a letter from one of the former city administrators, Bill Veach, who was not able to attend because of a recent surgery. Mr. Veach wrote, “31 years as city attorney, WOW! With just a quick estimate, I’d say that was over 800 council meetings, 300 plus Planning and Zoning meetings, a similar number of code board meetings, countless plan reviews, 13,000 verbal threats received — 12,994 of those serious in nature, 65,000 phone calls and 3,700 Budweiser Tall Boys consumed. Not bad for a part-time position.” He continued by writing about how Mr. Cook has impacted the lives of just about everyone in Okeechobee. “I have worked with literally dozens of attorneys since my days in Okeechobee, but I still feel like I worked with the best when I worked with you.”

Former administrator Brian Whitehall joked that he came because he didn’t think anyone else would be there, and someone ought to be there. He said Mr. Cook helped the city through many difficult situations, and he believes the attorney, just like code enforcement, gets a bad rap because a lot of people don’t understand the complexities of how the city works and how the code has to be followed. “I always admired the way John eloquently explained the problems we had in front of us,” he said.

City Administrator Marcos Montes De Oca was kind enough to let Mr. Cook know that statistics are not in his favor. “Statistics say most people die within a year of retirement,” he said.

Mayor Watford said he wanted to thank Mr. Cook for his demeanor. In other counties or on other boards, he said. Sometimes the attorney seems to think he is a sixth council member, but Mr. Cook did not do that. He gave an opinion when he was asked, but never interfered, even when he did not agree with decisions the council made.

At the council meeting later in the day, Mr. Cook was presented with a key to the city, but he responded by saying, “I happen to know there have been people here all day changing the locks on the doors. I’m not sure my key will work.”

Mr. Cook will be finishing out the year as city attorney, but then a new firm will take over.

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