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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Isabella Cannon, Spring 1993. Interview G-0188. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Assuaging tension between the city and service departments

Cannon describes the "blue flu" as a problem she was faced with as mayor. When she was first elected, the police, fire, and sanitation departments were all on the verge of striking. Cannon was determined to prevent this, however, and she explains here how she worked with the police and fire departments in order to boost morale and to provide them with the equipment and training they needed. In this regard, she emphasizes the creation of stable relations between city government and service departments as one of her primary successes as mayor.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Isabella Cannon, Spring 1993. Interview G-0188. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

Another thing I was faced with immediately was that we were threatened with what was called at that time "blue flu." The morale of City workers was at a low ebb because of conflict between the City administration and the workers. The police, the firefighters, and the sanitation workers were threatening a strike, a total black-out of all services for the City, which would have completely tied up the City. It was one of the questions that was thrown to me by the Chamber of Commerce when they interviewed me as a candidate. "Well, Mrs. Cannon, what would you do it you were faced with strikes of the police and other City services?" I said, "I will not have strikes. I will work with the police, and the firefighters, and the sanitation workers, and we will not have strikes." They laughed at me, but it actually worked that way. Under the strongest opposition from the City administration, I worked intensely with the police. The result was, we had no strikes by the police. In fact, what I was able to work out was that I wanted each police officer to have a car, to drive anywhere, any time, 24 hours a day. My firm belief is that if you see a police car in somebody's driveway, or at the grocery store, or at the movies, you don't question whether it's on a personal errand. You sit up and are careful. The administration said no, that it would take an extra million dollars and we could not afford it. Fortunately we were able to get enough money for fourteen cars, and I was able to work it out so that two officers were assigned to each car. This meant that when an officer came in after a wild chase, and maybe stripped the brakes, maybe the tires were gone, maybe it needed oil, formerly he just parked and left it because he didn't know who was going to be the next person using it. Assigning a car to two officers revolutionized the whole system. The officers took so much pride in their cars, that they would come into my driveway and say, "Mayor Cannon, come and look at our car." They had waxed it, they had carpets in it, maintenance changed, there was a whole difference in the attitude of all officers. The same thing happened with the firefighters. The firefighters started to work at a certain level, the first level being Firefighter I. There was no advancement until occasionally a position would open up as a driver for one of the fire engines. This would be a big promotion in pay. There would be fifty men applying for that job. Only one got it, and we would then lose a lot of the trainees. I was able to get some intermediary steps, again with great opposition, so there was possible advancement. The first thing that the administration wanted was that these intermediary applicants must learn emergency medical training (EMT) as part of the requirement for promotion. I asked, "Do the Captains have to have it (EMT)?" "No." "Do other groups have to have it?" "No." I then said that everybody does it, or nobody does it. Again morale improved, and we did not lose firefighters who had gone through expensive training. Another thing that I did, which was not immediate, but I got the first women firefighters. This, too, created a lot of opposition. People came to me and would say, "A woman can't get a limp body out of six-story window. There's no way she can do that." I said, "Have you ever heard of Karate and Judo? You can teach them." So we got our first women firefighters in.