Everyone on the Cookeville city council — except the mayor himself — voted Thursday night to launch an outside inquiry into the mayor’s new job with the city-owned hospital. They met in a special meeting after several expressed concerns about a potential conflict of interest.
The city approves Cookeville Regional Medical Center’s $300 million budget and names most of its board of directors. The mayor also has a seat on that board, though he gave it up just before starting last month in the newly created role of chief strategy officer.
“I am concerned about this appearance of impropriety of you negotiating with the hospital administration while serving six years on the hospital board, and using the power you derive from that to negotiate a high-level contract,” council member Charles Womack told Mayor Ricky Shelton, just before the vote was taken.
Womack has previously served as mayor and was a physician at Cookeville Regional before retiring.
Shelton says the city attorney, who also sits on the hospital authority board, assured him he did nothing wrong.
“Emotions aside, it wasn’t unethical,” Shelton told his colleagues in a prepared statement during the meeting over Zoom. “Just because you don’t like something doesn’t make it wrong or even unethical.”
The 4-0 vote means the city manager will hire an attorney from outside Cookeville to look at the situation. Shelton called it a “waste” of time and money, accusing his colleagues of “slandering” him for political gain and to “destroy” his reputation.