Conflicts of interest entangle Williamson officials and county-owned hospital, one commissioner says

Conflicts of interest entangle Williamson officials and county-owned hospital, one commissioner says

Commissioners could decide to sell the Williamson County-owned hospital to a private party and save the county a lot of money, but that doesn’t appear likely.

Many factors are at play. But, according to one commissioner, four of her colleagues have professional conflicts of interest regarding the hospital and therefore lack the incentive to sell it.

“Look at selling the hospital and let’s look at putting it on the books,” County Commissioner Kathy Danner told Tennessee Watchdog. “When you sell it, it actually contributes property taxes.”

Danner said the hospital, the Williamson Medical Center, is probably worth $500 million.

The hospital doesn’t pay property taxes, she said.

Kathy Danner (photo courtesy of Facebook)

Kathy Danner (photo courtesy of Facebook)

Danner wants commissioners to at least study the idea of selling the hospital to a private owner, but a majority of the other 23 commissioners won’t even do that, she says.

According to the Williamson Medical Center’s website, County Mayor Rogers Anderson and County Commissioners Bert Chalfant and Jack Walton serve on the hospital’s board of trustees.

County Commissioner Steve Smith, meanwhile, is the Williamson Medical Center Foundation’s executive director, according to his LinkedIn page.

Those four men did not return repeated requests for comment this week.

Russell Little, a brother of Commissioner Thomas Little, is chairman of the hospital’s board of trustees.

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On top of that, Danner said, the same Franklin-based law firm that represents the county government, Buerger, Moseley & Carson, represents the hospital.

In an emailed statement, Williamson Medical Center Chief Financial Officer Paul Bolin said county taxpayers are not, in fact, subsidizing the hospital.

Thomas Little (photo courtesy of Williamson County's official website)

Thomas Little (photo courtesy of Williamson County’s official website)

Thomas Little said the hospital’s board of trustees, 13 in all, must include a set number of county commissioners, per an agreement with the hospital.

“My brother was appointed to the board when he was a county commissioner,” Little said.

“He has remained on the board ever since.”

Little said he opposes selling the hospital because, per state law, the county may not use proceeds from the sale for anything except health-care expenses.

“We haven’t put any money into the hospital. Therefore, we can’t derive profit from selling it,” Little said.

“I have stated for the record, as long as the hospital is not costing us anything, I don’t see any reason to sell it. If it reaches a point where it is starting to cost taxpayers some money, then I am for selling it.”

Danner, for her part, said Little is technically incorrect.

“True, we don’t subsidize the hospital. They borrow general bonds. They use the county’s credit card,” Danner said.

“If they can’t pay the principal or the interest then the taxpayers are at risk of subsidizing it, and they are losing money as all hospitals are. That’s where the risk to taxpayers is.”

Jeff Moseley (photo courtesy of LinkedIn)

Jeff Moseley (photo courtesy of LinkedIn)

Jeff Moseley, with Buerger, Moseley & Carson, told Tennessee Watchdog procedures are in place preventing a conflict of interest while the firm simultaneously represents the hospital and the county.

“Both entities know about the representation, and we have a waiver from the county and the hospital waiving any conflict in possible representation,” Moseley said.

“That is the legal, ethical side that we’ve done to comply with state law and the bar association requirements. If we think there is a divergence of interests between those two then we step aside and let someone else handle it.”

The hospital opened in 1958, per an act of the Tennessee General Assembly, according to its website.

Contact Christopher Butler at chris@tennesseewatchdog.org 

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