Memphis City Council debates MLGW autonomy, approves board members

While Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland drew football analogies regarding Memphis’s power supply deals, Light Gas and Water, the Memphis City Council approved two new MLGW board members and fought over the autonomy of the city-owned utility.

City Council approved two new board members – Cheryl Pesce and Carl Person – on Tuesday afternoon. The two new board members join Leon Dickson, Mitch Graves and Michael Pohlman, who were reappointed on Tuesday afternoon.

The reappointments came the same day as council members argued over whether the city council should have its own consultant to assess and audit the power supply process.

MLGW received 27 bids from the private sector for its electricity supply. Currently, the Tennessee Valley Authority supplies all of its electricity to Memphis and Shelby County.

The city council also decided on Tuesday that it wants to raise the dollar threshold for MLGW contracts it must approve, giving the utility greater autonomy, although some members are expressing mistrust over the way it handles its appeals. electricity offers.

MLGW gets two new board members

Strickland said MLGW had an “outstanding board” over the past six years. He contacted the two former administrators whom he did not renew.

For one member, Steven Wishnia, it was “just time to go” after 14 years of service, Strickland said. And while Strickland offered to reappoint Carlee McCullough, she declined the nomination, he said.

Of the three renewals and two new appointments, Strickland said, “They are all accomplished in their field and I have confidence in their abilities.”

Strickland said he knew the board members were operating under expired terms, but he didn’t want to “switch horses” until responses to the RFP were complete.

The Institute for Public Service Reporting at the University of Memphis published an article last month detailing how board members were all on expired terms. The Institute also published an article about McCullough’s business relationship with Tennessee Valley Authority executive Mark Yates.

“If the power issue was a football game, I think we’re at the end of the first quarter,” Strickland said. “The second quarter is reviewed by the consultant MLGW. The third quarter is a review by the MLGW Board of Directors and the fourth quarter is a review by the City Council. As I told you just Friday via email, I have confidence in the process and together we will make the best decision possible for taxpayers.

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Person said the most important thing about serving on MLGW’s board would be “to make sure the ratepayers get absolutely the best service that Memphis, Light, Gas and Water can provide.”

“The second thing is to support staff by making sure we have the infrastructure to support public service that takes us not just from today but into the future,” he said.

As to whether Memphis should leave the TVA, Person said he didn’t have an answer. “I don’t have enough context and information on this. Certainly, I don’t want to give uninformed opinions on this, because I have to study this,” Person said.

Pesce called joining the board at this “historic time” a “privilege.”

“I look forward to doing this and helping to make this historic decision,” she said. “I’m ready to keep up to date with everything I’ve missed from not being on the board, getting all the information, reading it, looking at all the RFPs and getting ready to vote. “

She doesn’t yet have an answer on whether Memphis should leave TVA, she said.

Duel of perspectives on the MLGW power supply process

Last week, three Memphis City Council members wrote Strickland a letter asking its independent consultant to bring “transparency” to MLGW’s power supply tenders.

Strickland responded a few days later in a short letter that pledged some sort of review by its independent consultant, Enervision.

“We are in discussions with MLGW to have our consultant review the tender responses. We have not yet reached an agreement with MLGW. However, I do not wish our consultant to be involved in the tender review process. MLGW offers because I want her to remain independent of this process,” Strickland said in her letter.

Electricity auction:MLGW will not say who bid for its electricity supply. Watchdog says he can name names

On Tuesday, Strickland said he trusted the process – which the city council approved last year. However, some board members aren’t so sure.

Councilor Cheyenne Johnson is sponsoring a resolution that would pave the way for city council to hire a consultant who would assess the power supply process, serving as what Johnson described as a sort of fact checker. She is one of three members who wrote the letter to Strickland last week.

“That person is just going to read the proposals,” Johnson said Tuesday. She said they would not provide any oversight or replace MLGW’s own consultant.

“It’s the MLGW process to make that selection,” she said.

Other council members, particularly Councilman Martavius ​​Jones, expressed skepticism that the consultant was needed.

“We need to have a level of trust in the expert in this area. I don’t think that accomplishes that. How has the process not been transparent so far? I don’t know how that accomplishes that. or reveal anything,” Jones said. noted. He later said that hiring the consultant would “muddy the waters even further”.

Allan Wade, the city council’s private lawyer who would be responsible for hiring the consultant, indirectly noted competing interest groups who have raised concerns about MLGW’s process.

“You have to find someone who isn’t already on someone’s side,” Wade said.

MLGW Contract Threshold Approved

After a lively debate, the City Council approved an ordinance which raised the threshold for MLGW contracts to be approved by the MLGW Board of Commissioners and the City Council.

The contract threshold has been raised to $250,000 and the salary threshold has been raised to $180,000

MLGW argued it would make the public service more efficient, Corey Hester – president of IBEW 1288, the union that represents most MLGW employees – urged the board not to endorse it.

Samuel Hardiman covers Memphis city government and politics for The Commercial Appeal. He can be reached by email at [email protected] or followed on Twitter at @samhardiman.

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