June 29, 2021
By: Dwayne Page
Hanging up his robe!
After almost 24 years serving as DeKalb County’s General Sessions and Juvenile Court Judge, Bratten Cook, II has announced that he will be leaving office when his term ends August 31, 2022.
“The voters of DeKalb County have honored me three different times with election, but like the old saying goes “every dog has its day” and mine has come,” said Judge Cook in an interview with WJLE Friday.
Although he will be stepping down from the bench next year, Judge Cook stresses that he is not retiring as an attorney.
“I am still going to practice law. I love working and I don’t know what I would do if I wasn’t working. I hope I can slow down some since I won’t be on the bench several days a week but I don’t play golf 8 days a week like my buddy Hilton Conger,” said Judge Cook with a chuckle.
Judge Cook was elected to his first eight year term in 1998 and re-elected in 2006 and 2014. He made his decision not to seek a fourth term last year, but only shared it with a select few.
“I decided quite some time back that it was time to step aside and let someone else assume the reigns of the court system in DeKalb County. I let some of the lawyers know more than a year ago that I was not going to seek re-election so that they could at least be thinking about running”.
Cook has practiced law for 41 years but becoming a lawyer was not a career path he had chosen until he was already in college.
“Actually it didn’t hit me until probably my second year at MTSU when I had a lot of liberal arts courses such as history, psychology, sociology, and various English and literature courses. I enjoy reading and I found out if you want to be a lawyer you had better enjoy reading. One thing led to another and I thought I would take the LSAT which was the Law School Admissions Test. I did and scored pretty well on it and from there I applied to a couple of law schools, actually only Memphis and UT and got accepted at both but I wanted to go to UT instead of Memphis,” Judge Cook said.
After becoming an attorney in 1980, Cook rose through the ranks to become one of the leading lawyers in town. For sixteen years he served as attorney and prosecutor for the City of Smithville and only gave it up when he became judge because he couldn’t hold both positions.
During his time on the bench, Judge Cook has started several programs through the court system to better the lives of people who come before him, but the one he is most proud of is the Recovery Court, which is a rehabilitation program for drug offenders as an alternative to incarceration.
“I am extremely proud of our Adult Recovery Court, which we implemented about 15 years ago. It is the most important program that I started as judge. It used to be called Drug Court. We still perform the same function; the State just changed the name. I have asked a hundred times over the years “do you want to pay $20,000 a year to house each person in the DeKalb County Jail, or do you want to pay about $5,000 a year to treat them so they can become clean and sober and responsible citizens?” It’s a no brainer. The Sheriff has always been behind this program and is a key member of our Recovery Court team as well as the Assistant Public Defender and the Assistant District Attorney General. I have also been blessed with having other good people working with me in the Recovery Court Program. Right now we have Kate Arnold who is our Coordinator and she is doing a fabulous job. This program has been a tremendous success. We have seen so many people get clean and sober, get their children back, get a job, and get their own place to live. It’s totally transformed the lives of many and those in their sphere of influence. I believe when you change one person’s life you’re really not just changing that one, but it goes out exponentially to their spouse, children, parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, and friends. It’s so rewarding and I thank the Lord that I have had this opportunity,” said Judge Cook. Since 2002, Judge Cook has also overseen a Juvenile Recovery Court in DeKalb County but that is currently phasing out and transitioning to a new statewide program.
“The Juvenile Recovery Court Program is being phased out, not by my doing, but at the insistence of the State. There will no longer be a Juvenile Recovery Court. It will be called Family Recovery and it will work with juveniles and their families more or less in the context of Department of Children Services cases to try and provide families with safe, sober, responsible, respectable environments. I am looking forward to getting that up and running”.
In addition to the Recovery Court, Judge Cook has overseen other programs geared toward helping juveniles and adults.
“Several programs were started for juveniles back when I first became judge including a teen safe driving school that I require all offenders of virtually any traffic violation to attend. We have juvenile drug and alcohol classes and a juvenile anger management class. I started a smoking cessation class and require every student to attend who gets caught with either tobacco products at school or the last few years its been probably more vaping products than tobacco. We also have a crisis intervention program in DeKalb County for not just the children, but families that may have crises in their lives and need help. In the adult arena we have basically the same categories of programs like our safe driving school. We have alcohol and drug assessments for anyone that is convicted of an alcohol or drug offense. That assessment will show if they need any type of treatment whether its inpatient or intensive outpatient or maybe no treatment. Whatever treatment is recommended is what I require them to do. We have clean and sober classes for adults, anger management, and domestic violence counseling”.
“One thing I unfortunately have not been able to implement and I wanted to a year or so ago but couldn’t largely because of COVID is a mentoring program that would go hand in hand with the Department of Children Services because there are so many young people in our community that are being raised by a single parent and most of the time that single parent is a mother. These young boys need a man in their life to teach them how to be a man, how to be responsible and respectable, and how to treat girls, and the girls also need someone in their life to teach them how to be a respectable young lady.
Over the years Judge Cook has received his share of honors but he said it’s his wife Judy and secretary Tish Summers who deserve most of the credit for the recognition.
“I have been blessed with having a wife who has always supported me. When I first ran for the judgeship Judy got out and beat the bushes, walked about every road in DeKalb County, knocked on thousands of doors and has always been behind me in my efforts to create these different programs and also my secretary Tish. She has been with me over 30 years and has been instrumental in helping me. When some accolade or award comes along its always me that gets it, but its Judy and Tish that really deserve the awards,” he said.
From that first election to today, Judge Cook has always had the support of his immediate and extended family.
“Judy and I will celebrate our 48th anniversary this year. We have three children, Megan, Bratten, and Andrew and five grandchildren, Ari, Devin, Bratten IV, Bexley, and Kara. When I first ran for Judge in 1998, my mother Jo Bill Cook was a tremendous help as well as my mother in law and father in law Earl and Ravanell Driver along with several of my aunts, two of whom have passed away, Jeanine Cook and Tincy Stone. I still have other family living who were instrumental in my election and two re-elections, including my uncle Joe Stone and aunt Janie Knowles and I love and appreciate them. I regret that my dad Bratten Cook, Sr. died in 1994 and never had the chance to see me become a judge but I know he was extremely proud of me for becoming a lawyer”.
When on vacation Judge Cook and his family often take trips to Florida and he plans on continuing to do that perhaps even more so in the future.
“My second home is Disney World and I hope to be going there more than I have in the past. Its where I really get my energy from and my batteries re-charged”.
Judge Cook currently serves as president of the local bar association and he looks forward to continue working with his fellow attorneys as he carries on his law practice after stepping down from the bench.
“We are blessed to have attorneys, primarily from DeKalb County but other counties that practice in the General Sessions and Juvenile Court who are intelligent, articulate, cooperative, and good people to work with. It makes a judge’s job so much easier. We have a great bar association here of which I have been president for years. They are great lawyers. The late Chancellor Vernon Neal, who was my favorite judge of all time, once said he would put any lawyer in the Upper Cumberland up against any lawyer in Knoxville, Chattanooga or Nashville and guarantee you they would outshine any of those big city lawyers. I think that’s true”.
Judge Cook said he hopes his successor will carry on the programs he started and would be willing to fill in for the new judge from time to time if the need should arise.
“I hope I can be of some help to my successor and show them what I have done and what the job entails. I have been blessed to have former General Sessions and Juvenile Judge Vester Parsley and City Judge Hilton Conger as well as other judges from surrounding counties fill in for me when I have had conflicts, sickness, or vacation and I would do the same for my successor. I just hope and pray whoever my successor is will continue on with these programs we started especially the Recovery Court”.
Asked if he had ever during his career contemplated seeking higher office, Judge Cook was quick to respond “no” but he added that his belief is everyone has a purpose in life.
“When I first made the decision to run for judge in 1998 I did a lot of thinking, but I did a whole lot more praying. I believe I was meant to do what I have done in my life. I have been so blessed far above what I deserve in my life with the opportunities I have been given and although I have been honored many times in my 40 year career with different awards, nothing quite equals the people of your home county selecting you to be a public official. They not only did it once or twice, but three times for me and I have enjoyed almost every minute of it”.
Libraries Wrap Up Fun Filled Summer Reading Program
June 29, 2021
By: Dwayne Page
The DeKalb County Libraries want to thank all of the parents(and grandparents) and kids who made this Summer Reading Program “Tales and Tails” so much fun
“We hope all the children enjoyed it as much as we did. A special thanks to Save the Children for partnering with us this year to bring the children all the great prizes and crafts. Thanks to Bumpers, Sonic, McDonalds and Pizza Hut for the special coupons. As always, WJLE and Smithville Review did a great job promoting our summer reading program,” said Library Director Kathy Hendrixson.
The finale party was held Thursday, June 24 at the county complex auditorium featuring guest Mason Robinson, Seasonal Interpretive Park Ranger at Edgar Evins State Park who brought in a live snake and a red shouldered hawk for the children to see.
Road Supervisor Defends His Department (View Video Here)
June 29, 2021
By: Dwayne Page
Answering his critics!
DeKalb County Road Supervisor Danny Hale addressed the county commission during Monday night’s regular meeting to defend his department after receiving some criticism from members of the commission at the meeting last month.
“I wanted to make sure I was here tonight because I didn’t get to be here last month and there seemed to be a lot of controversy over our budget. I wanted to be here tonight in case there was any further controversy. Last month there were a couple of commissioners who questioned our work ethics. I don’t appreciate that. I think the world of all of you. I appreciate your support. One actually got on social media and dogged me. I desire your prayers instead of you condemning me,” said Road Supervisor Hale.
The issue arose in May prior to county commission action on a budget amendment of $30,000 from the category of highway bridge maintenance to employee benefits, insurance. This procedure of moving money from one category to another is routine in any department, especially toward the end of a fiscal year, when one line item runs short of funds to finish out the budget year. The commission gave its approval for the budget amendment at the May meeting.
Before taking the vote, Fifth District Commissioner Jerry Adcock questioned the move and added that he was getting complaints about the highway department from the public.
“There seems to be a lot moving (funds) from highway maintenance like bridges and stuff like that over to the employee side (budget). Our roads are kind of in bad shape. I don’t know how bridges look. I don’t mind taking care of the employees but that’s one of the biggest issues I have questions on from constituents in the county. Almost every week I get a phone call, not just from my district, but other districts about people asking what’s going on with the road department. I ask what do you mean and they (constituents) tell me the road department people say they don’t have enough money”, said Commissioner Adcock.
First District Commissioner Julie Young added “I’d like some clarification as to why it (transfer of funds) is not coming from another line item other than highway and bridge maintenance”.
“I want to second what they (Adcock and Young) have said because I am catching that (public criticism of the highway department) all over. They ask me why is the work not being done. We don’t see them. I am just passing along what I am hearing also,” said Second District Commissioner Myron Rhody.
Fourth District Commissioner Janice Fish Stewart defended the highway department saying they had been working in her district.
“In defense of the road department they have done quite a bit of work lately in some very unsafe areas in the fourth district. I have talked to my constituents. I have had several call me and say thanks for the roads. They are doing some things. They may be back on the side of the hill and we can’t see them and we don’t know what they are doing but I do know down in the fourth district they have made some significant improvements. Better than they have been in 30 years is what one gentleman told me. I just want you to know that. They are working,” said Commissioner Stewart at the May meeting.
“I want to thank Commissioner Stewart for standing up for me and telling how our men worked in her area last month. She said some of her people said it was the most work they had seen there in 30 years. We do that every day so if anybody has any questions about our work ethic come and spend a day with us. We’ll be glad to show you any of it,” said Road Supervisor Hale Monday night.
During a budget committee meeting June 17, Road Supervisor Hale made a request for more funding of his department in the 2021-22 budget year and while he wants almost one million dollars in new revenue ($991,520) which is the equivalent of a 16 cent property tax increase, Hale insists he was misunderstood by the media and others and isn’t asking that the county raise taxes to meet his request. He only wants the county to try and find the money for him from somewhere.
Although the road department is primarily funded by allocations from state sources such as gasoline and motor fuel tax, state aid program, and the petroleum special tax, it also benefits from a local mineral severance tax and the county currently kicks in four cents of the local property tax rate which, according to the 2020-21 budget comes to about $190,000 a year.
Still, Hale said that is not near enough to do the work needed.
The budget committee has not yet acted on Hale’s request.
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