When Brent Greer was elected in 1998 as Henry County’s county executive, he never thought he would remain in the job for 22 years.
“I thought that after my first four years, I’d be lucky to be back for four more,” Greer laughed as he remembered his long run as first county executive, then as county mayor after the job title was changed.
“Forty-six percent of the county mayors in Tennessee change out every four years, so it’s not a job with a lot of longevity,” Greer said.
Greer beat the odds by developing smooth relationships with not only state and federal officials, but productive working arrangements with various Henry County commissioners and elected office holders throughout his tenure.
Now, he’s stepping aside, giving up the final two years of the term he was elected to in 2018 to spend more time with his family.
Greer had a background in finance and accounting and worked as a banker for several years after moving to Paris in 1972. He grew up in Bruceton and had briefly worked in Nashville before deciding he wanted the small-town life instead. He also had an artist management company in Nashville, handling country music acts, prior to running for county executive in 1998.
When he stepped into the job, the county was dealing with the issue of a new county jail.
“I learned a lot working with the county commissioners on that jail, figuring out a way to pay for it. A lot of the commissioners were new in 1998, too (11 new commissioners were elected that year to what was then an 18-member body),” he said.
Other key issues during his early years leading the county included school consolidation for students in Puryear and Cottage Grove (merging into Harrelson School), a drive to legalize liquor by the drink and Sunday beer sales, and the county’s decision to come under the umbrella of the Tennessee River Resort District Act.
“That has been a key economic driver for our community,” Greer said of the TRRA Act, which provides money from the state to counties that are bordering on or crossed by the Tennessee River. “That has brought millions of dollars into the county.”
Since Henry County adopted the act in 2006, it has received about $1 million a year from the state, with the provision that half the money is devoted to tourism projects. The other half goes into general government.
NO SHORTAGE OF ONGOING PROJECTS
Before Greer made the final decision to step aside, he said he wanted to make sure some of the current projects were progressing the way he hoped.
Those include construction of the new Lodge at Paris Landing State Park, the four-laning project for Highway 641 north of Paris, and the beginning of development of the new industrial property near Russell Street (former site of the American Colloid cat litter plant).
Economic and industrial issues are always a big challenge for rural counties. Greer said he used a strategy of trying to deal with the industries that are already located here rather than chasing large ones that might actually be too large to be a good fit for the community.
“You’re always fearful you would lose the larger ones. I’ve tried to focus on the industries that it’s practical that we can help and that can help us,” he said, noting his belief that companies that would employ between 50 and 150 workers are about the right size for a community this size.
“And I think we’ve been able to help several local industries continue to grow. I’m glad to have played a small part in that,” he said.
His banking background has been crucial in doing his job well, he said.
“But it’s also about figuring out ways to pay for schools and all the things that the community needs on a limited amount of tax dollars. The best thing that’s happened for me during my tenure has been the people that have worked with me, both county commissioners and staff members,” he said.
“I’ve been able to get good people here that I know can do their job, and that’s given me the chance to spend more time on the bigger picture parts of the job.”
WHY LEAVE NOW?
Greer announced his decision to resign in July, even though his term runs through 2022. He will be replaced by John Penn Ridgeway, who won the Nov. 3 election to complete that term. Ridgeway is now slated to be sworn in on Dec. 1, and Greer is remaining on the job through Nov. 30.
The COVID-19 pandemic played a role in the decision, though Greer had already spoken to friends in state government as early as March about what steps he would need to take to resign.
“Dealing with business as it has to be done now, with the remote meetings and the virtual meetings — that’s just not me. I’ve always been more of a face-to-face person,” Greer said.
He was also disappointed the pandemic pushed back the building of the new Lodge at Paris Landing. He had hoped it would be completed in time for the World’s Biggest Fish Fry in April 2021, but the delay has pushed it back to at least fall of 2021.
“One of my grandkids actually said to me, ‘Papa, you don’t seem like you’re happy,’” Greer said.
Two of his three grandchildren have college athletic scholarships and he wants to be able to see them play in person.
“Family is the main motivation,” he said. “I’m going to decompress for awhile, dedicate time to my family, and after a bit of time, I’d like to pursue some volunteer and nonprofit opportunities.”
“Hopefully I’ve been a mayor who has moved the county forward.”