by Chris Butler
Editor, Tennessee Watchdog
Williamson County needs about half a billion dollars to pay for planned growth, and selling the Williamson County Medical Center to a private company could be one way to start raising that money. But most county commissioners say the hospital isn’t for sale.
As reported, the county has owned the hospital since the 1950s.
The only alternative to selling the hospital, other commissioners say, would be to increase property taxes — year after year.
Last month, most commissioners wouldn’t even consent to a study into whether it’s in taxpayers’ best interests to sell the hospital.
Seven elected county officials have ties to the medical center.
• Four of the 24 commissioners — Bert Chalfant, Dana Ausbrooks, Matthew Williams, and Jack Walton — serve on the hospital’s board of trustees.
• County Mayor Rogers Anderson also serves on the hospital’s board of trustees.
• Another commissioner, Thomas Little, has a brother who serves on the board of trustees.
• County Commissioner Steve Smith directs the Williamson Medical Center Foundation.
These examples reek of conflict, Commissioner Sherri Clark said.
“If there is a direct conflict of interest, then I do believe that they need to recuse themselves,” Clark said.
“I could not myself vote on an issue if I had a direct conflict of interest.”
Commissioner Todd Kaestner also supports studying a sale. The hospital is worth about $400 million, he said.
County Commissioner Gregg Lawrence said the hospital costs county taxpayers $1.5 million each year; the county borrowed money for it in 2002. Other commissioners, such as Chalfant and Walton, said Lawrence is wrong. The county spends nothing.
Legally, if county officials sell the hospital they could use the proceeds only for health-care expenses, Little told Tennessee Watchdog last year.
Kaestner said commissioners don’t know that for a fact, and the county attorney should investigate. But the attorney, Kaestner said, can’t investigate without a directive from the county commission.
“It’s clearly a confused topic,” Kaestner said.
“They repeatedly vote to not understand that, which means they are unwilling to have an adult conversation about it, which I find to be a breach of fiduciary duty.”
The county’s education department spends about $38 million a year on health-care expenses, Kaestner said.
“Could we use it for that? Nobody knows. That’s the point,” Kaestner said.
“Nobody currently knows the answers to these questions.”
Another day older and deeper in debt
The county is about $500 million in debt and has about $500 million in funding requests for 10 new schools in the next decade, Kaestner said.
“Operating expenses will be higher than the capital costs.”
Anderson, Smith and Ausbrooks did not return repeated requests for comment. Officials at Williamson Medical also failed to return repeated requests for comment.
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Contact Christopher Butler at [email protected]
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Reprinted with permission from Tennessee Watchdog