PPE

Report: Lawmaker’s furniture company struck deal to supply hospital gowns to state

Rep. Jerry Sexton (R-Bean Station) attends a House floor session on June 1, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

WTVF-TV investigative reporter Phil Williams is raising questions about no-bid contracts handed out to politically connected vendors amid the COVID-19 pandemic. One of them appears to have been state Rep. Jerry Sexton (R-Bean Station), who landed a deal to supply hospital gowns through his furniture company.

According to Williams, Sexton’s arrangment was to supply $165,000 worth of gowns at $5.50 a piece, nearly double the amount charged by other vendors. Sexton delivered the gowns but the purchase order was canceled after the TV station began asking questions. The Tennessee Emergency Management Agency declined to say why.

According to Williams’ report:

Sexton, who still hasn’t been paid, declined NewsChannel 5’s request to explain what happened.

[State Sen. Jeff Yarbro (D-Nashville] noted that state law makes it illegal for state officials to bid on state contracts, although various attorney general’s opinions have raised questions about whether that statute applies in such cases.

Yarbro said it at least raises some ethical red flags.

“If in the early days of COVID, we weren’t paying attention to that basic rule and were planning to pay a legislator, I think it raises significant questions about just the level of oversight into all of these contracts.”