Former Cookeville City Council member Dwight Henry saw the good and bad of the relationship between the city of Cookeville and Putnam County during his three terms on the council.
He said communication can quickly deteriorate the relationship.
“One of the things I learned is there’s no such thing as too much communication,” Henry said. “You know, you’ve just got to you’ve got to communicate. You’ve got to share your ideas, got to keep your ideas before the body. And then what I learned also is that, you know, ordinarily not every time, but most of the time, if you get reasonable people around the table to discuss the matter, you can come up with something that everybody can live with.”
Some of the talk last week concerning Putnam County’s jail and justice center expansion caused some bruised feelings among leadership. It left many worried that a return to poor relations between the city and county. He said council members and commissioners do more than shape policy.
“The governing bodies really do a lot in terms of shaping the attitude, if you will, of the city at large, and that might be as important a job as you have is to keep that going,” Henry said. “And you have to realize that even though there’s opposition, it’s not about you personally. It’s just business. It’s just people seeing things differently. But that’s got to be communicated at every level or all kinds of problems going to happen.”
Henry said he has seen the damage that comments can make between leaders.
“If we we had a three-two vote or something we disagreed on, if the next day I went out of the community and started talking badly about my fellow council members, we’re a small enough town sooner or later that’s going to get back to the larger group,” Henry said. “And once you get them out there, they’re out there.”
Though respectful of the sunshine laws that prohibit decision-making behind closed doors, Henry said it’s also important to talk through issues. He said he always tried to avoid surprises.
“I would say ‘I just want to let you know, I don’t want to surprise you about that when we get in the meeting. And you may have other thoughts and I can be persuaded,'” Henry said. “There were conversations that you have and you can have those and still maintain the spirit and the letter of the sunshine law. And I think, you know, I think that’s a good thing. Very good thing. But they’ve got to happen.”
Henry served three terms on the council from 1985-1988, 1998 to 2002, and 2014 to 2018.