COOKEVILLE – Prior to the vote in Thursday’s special called council meeting, Mayor Ricky Shelton made a statement. Here is the statement in its entirety:
“In the mid-1990s, a company from outside Cookeville tried to take our city hospital over. You may remember it—people from all over town stood up and joined hands around our hospital. We literally gave our hospital a hug. It made national news, and the out-of-towners went away.
The Cookeville City Council and the Tennessee General Assembly approved legislation in 1999 creating the Cookeville Regional Medical Center Authority. The law was designed to protect our hospital from politics, because your healthcare in your hometown should be above politics.
See related story: Council votes to move forward with outside review
That’s why the law gives the Cookeville City Council specific, limited powers over CRMC. The Council names the hospital trustees, approves the annual budget without the power to edit it line by line and approves any property transactions. That’s it. All other control rests with the Board of Trustees. Council doesn’t edit the budget. Council doesn’t pick the CEO. Council can’t meddle in hiring and firing.
I must admit that I am coming into this meeting tonight feeling tired.
These past few weeks, and even more so, this past week, has been one of the hardest times in my family’s life to date. It has been excruciating to see false things written about me in the newspaper and to hear the incredibly hurtful and dishonest things that have been said about me and my family on the radio and from a small group of people in the community.
It’s been hard for me. Harder for my wonderful wife. And hardest for my children, especially my twin girls. We’ve held to this verse from Romans… ‘What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?’
I don’t claim to be perfect, never have, and Lord knows I’ve made mistakes in my life…but some of the things I have heard these past few weeks have been absolutely untrue. I even heard things said about what I am currently doing, or supposedly getting ready to do, not do, or implement, in my current position – things that are so strangely far from the truth, and I can’t even imagine where people are getting the misinformation – heck, I’ve only been there 30 days!
I chose to serve this community and did so willingly almost 15 years now. I’ve spent thousands of hours trying to better our City. It hasn’t always been easy, and this past year was one that I think we can all agree that took us by complete surprise. I was humbled and committed to serving our community then, not because it was easy, but because I love this city and the people. I still do. This is my home.
Chuck – it’s no secret that you and I haven’t always seen eye to eye on things, but still, I do respect you. I think the one thing we have in common is that we know the importance of the hospital, care about it, and want it to be the best it can be for our community and beyond.
Mark – I would hate to think it, but after everything you have said and done, it looks as if you have chosen to personally attack me and my family. People in the community have shared some of the false and misleading statements that you have made about me and the medical center. They believed it was the right thing to do, because they see it isn’t as much about the hospital as it is about you trying to cancel my reputation, and service as mayor. I’ve been trying to remember what Paul teaches in Ephesians 6, that people aren’t our real enemies. And, I’m praying you and I will both remember that true victory lies not in making anyone pay for how they have hurt us, but in our willingness to walk in obedience to all that Scripture ask of us… even when it feels painfully impossible.
When this position was listed, I was interested, but I had a career I loved. I talked about the possibility with Shannon and how this would be great next step to continue serving our community, and we prayed together about it. I know that I don’t have another 40 years to dedicate to working, but I also know that I want to spend whatever time I have left, leaving a legacy of service, in Cookeville, that I can be proud of. The hospital is one of the heartbeats of this city, and I believe even Chuck and I can agree that the hospital is something to build, take care of, and be proud of. The last thing I would ever do, or ever want to do, is take attention away from the people who work so hard each day at the medical center serving in ways many of us can’t even imagine.
After being interviewed, Shannon and I both continued to pray about the best thing to do for our family. Changing jobs is never the easiest decision on a good day, and I didn’t want to do the wrong thing for myself, my family and our future. I also wanted to go somewhere where I could move the needle and make a difference. After working 15 years in healthcare, 14.5 years in service of our community and 6.5 of those as mayor, I wanted to use that experience, vision and passion to help.
When I applied, interviewed and was offered the position, I knew then, and I still know now, that I did everything I could to ensure the process was done the right way. We immediately removed any potential for conflict of interest. My preeminent goal was to do what was not only legal, but also ethical. The last thing I would want in any situation is for people to think that I had done something that wasn’t right.
Two months ago, when I informed our City that I had accepted a position as chief strategy officer, I told them I wanted to ensure that I did everything I needed to do in order to do things correctly. I immediately took the steps our City Attorney advised me to take.
- I resigned from the hospital authority board.
- I designated our vice mayor to serve on the hospital authority board.
- I pledged to recuse myself from any vote before this council concerning CRMC.
Again, I did all of this to ensure it was done properly.
The vote tonight is whether or not to pay a lawyer to reach inside the hospital, which is not a city department, and investigate who has what jobs there, why and how. This is a complete waste of taxpayer money.
This is why: As our attorney has told the Council, CRMC is not a city department. Hiring a lawyer to examine who CRMC hires and how they do it, would be like spending taxpayer dollars to determine how Tennessee Tech is hiring. Secondly, every member of our Council already knows the facts, because hospital leadership has met independently with each one and has shared the process – as well as answered any other questions they had.
These are the facts: The position I now hold was publicly advertised; there were lots of applicants; I applied; I was interviewed; and I accepted it when it was offered. I have taken steps to eliminate any future conflicts. This was clearly said then, and since then, I have done all the things requested of me. I have no contracts, employment or any other type, with CRMC. I trust the City Manager and the City Attorneys. And I trust the CRMC Board.
There are some people who don’t like that I am the Mayor, and that I was also hired at the hospital. Actually, they may not even like me. Emotions aside, it wasn’t unethical – just because you don’t like something doesn’t make it wrong, or even unethical. I submitted my resume, along with several others, interviewed for this position, and was offered the position. I was told time and time again, by both the city attorney and city manager, that there was nothing wrong, illegal or unethical about serving as mayor and being a hospital employee. When the questions have been asked and answered… repeatedly, when the facts have been presented by those who actually know, when does it turn from a fact finding mission to where we are now?
Mr. Womack and Mr. Miller are using politics to slander my name and destroy my reputation and my family, as well as harm CRMC, with their accusations of impropriety that have no merit or legitimacy. Two city attorneys and the city manager have researched this extensively and determined that no ethics, laws, by-laws or charter provisions have been violated in any way with my employment by CRMC. They know this. The entire Council knows this.
Reputation is a funny thing I guess – you spend so many years working hard, think you’re doing the right things, making mistakes along the way of course, and always in prayer, to come back even stronger – but these moments, the ones you don’t see coming, and the ones that make you feel so incredibly out of control, are really tough. I’ve done nothing wrong here. I’m incredibly proud of my service and the fact that my family and I have always put the citizens of Cookeville first. And, we will continue to do that. I was hired as a member of the Cookeville Regional Medical Center leadership team to continue to utilize my passion and vision for this great institution and the citizens it serves.
There is no other way to say it. At the end of the day, my character matters to me – but more so, it matters deeply to my wife and my children and to the people that I have been humbled and honored to serve for so many years.”