Going Far Above and Beyond
Cookeville’s Most Influential People – Class of 2022
There are many reasons former Cookeville Mayor Ricky Shelton is one of our most influential people, and most of them fall outside the scope of his mayorship. During Ricky’s eight years as Cookeville’s Mayor (2014 -2022) and eight years on the City Council (2002 – 2010), he championed countless new businesses, created several community traditions, and tirelessly led our community through the 2020 tornado and the unprecedented pandemic.
While some may think being the Mayor is a glamorous role with countless perks, the demanding position is not for the faint of heart. Born and raised in Cookeville, Ricky always had a passion for community involvement. His father was a volunteer firefighter in Cookeville for 30 years and went on to serve as the fire chief and public safety director. “I saw firsthand the impact our local leaders can have,” Ricky said. “I thought, I want to do that and make a difference in our community.”
During his tenure, Ricky launched Christmas in the Park, the annual Christmas Tree Lighting ceremony, Downtown Ice, Slide the City, and the popular event, Red White & Boom. “It was important to me to create a Fourth of July celebration that is free to attend,” said Ricky. The diligent leader also spearheaded the charge to bring Dogwood Park to fruition. The water feature that many enjoy in the summertime was an important component that Ricky made sure was implemented when planning the park. “I wanted a way to tie the west side and the Courthouse together,” noted Ricky. “It was very important to set the tone for businesses to want to invest in our community. Having a vibrant downtown is a huge part of that because it is a city’s core.” Ricky passed the ordinance to allow micro-breweries in city limits, which furthered his initiative for Cookeville to be a hip, thriving city that young professionals and families want to live in. “When I was growing up here you didn’t always have the opportunity to stay because there weren’t a lot of high-paying jobs,” said Ricky. During his time as Mayor, Cookeville grew exponentially. Included amongst the impressive stats are more than 5,000 jobs created, record housing, record sales tax growth, and extremely low unemployment.
Ricky made it a priority to be readily available and involved in the community from day one. Alongside his friend, County Mayor Randy Porter, Ricky launched a Facebook page where he kept the community up to date in real-time on current news. This direct communication source became pivotal for community awareness when the tornado devastated Cookeville in 2020. “I felt so responsible for our community,” recalls Ricky. “Mayor Randy’s background is in emergency services so that was extremely helpful in the aftermath of the tornado. We knew that the community was hurting, and they needed to hear from their leadership.” Mayor Randy and Ricky went live on Facebook multiple times a day immediately following the tornado, then continued with live updates through the early parts of COVID-19. “For me, communication is so key,” said Ricky. “Even if people don’t like what they hear, if you keep them in the loop and provide known facts, they can process and move forward.” Leadership shows strongest in crisis and our city leaders went far above and beyond the call of duty. They quickly devised a plan on what to do for people who lost their houses and established a tornado relief fund that raised more than $2 million dollars for the victims’ families and those affected. “I was very proud of how much we were able to help monetarily through our donors’ generosity,” said Ricky.
When COVID-19 hit in the weeks following and the country went on a mandatory shutdown, Ricky and Mayor Randy were in uncharted territory. “We were receiving guidance in the unknown, but it changed daily,” recalls Ricky. “We were trying to maintain the balance of freedom while also keeping people healthy.” Even during some of the most unprecedented events in our city’s history, Ricky was able to keep the bustling town moving forward. Most recently, Ricky announced a major retailer will be coming to Cookeville. Backed by popular demand and Ricky’s go-getter attitude, a major shopping development will be opening in Cookeville in 2023 with many desired stores. “I have been working on this for years and am thrilled to finally see it come to fruition,” said Ricky.
On top of his former duties as Mayor, Ricky served as the chief strategy officer at Cookeville Regional Medical Center. He also served on nine boards and attended City Council Worksessions and Council meetings twice a month. Ricky credits his stable family life and Christian faith to his ability to navigate the past few years. “My wife Shannon has helped tremendously with scheduling and keeping me on track mentally,” said Ricky. “I have two teenage daughters still at home who have grown up with me being mayor. When you are in office, your whole family is in office. When I deal with scrutiny, so do they. We must lean on each other and keep an open line of communication so I can be hyperaware when one of them is struggling.”
Staying grounded in his faith has been critical to navigating the high highs and the low lows that come with public office. “I know for a fact the Lord put me in this spot at this moment in time,” said Ricky. “I ask for the Lord’s guidance in everything I do and often call my pastor Bobby Davis to talk things through. There is no way I could’ve gotten through everything without being led by Christ. We’ve made mistakes but if you aren’t making mistakes, you probably aren’t doing anything.”
Even though Ricky is no longer in public office, his drive to serve the community is not going away any time soon. Through his 501(c)(4) Better Cookeville, Ricky will continue producing Red, White & Boom and hopes to bring even more family-friendly attractions to the thriving community we call home. “Cookeville has been successful because we’ve had an awesome team, including the city, county, TTU and CRMC working together to make our community the best it can be!”
– by Chelsea Dartez