Wednesday, December 24, 2003

MLGW'S MORRIS GETS THE SACK

MLGW President and CEO Herman Morris got a pink slip in his city stocking.

Posted By on Wed, Dec 24, 2003 at 4:00 AM

SPECIAL TO THE FLYER -- After six years with Memphis Light Gas & Water, CEO Herman Morris was given his walking papers Monday morning. In a closed meeting with Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton and MLGW Board Chair Dr. James Netters, Morris was told he would not be re-appointed. By Wednesday, Morris had only informed top staff he would be leaving. City Councilman E.C. Jones, who heads up the Council's General Services, Utilities and Communications committee said appointments - and non-renewals - are within the Mayor's purview but pointed out that Christmas might not have been the best time to break the news. "The only problem I have is maybe the timing," Jones said. "But I realize the new term starts on January 1st and the Mayor does not have a lot of time to advise those people that he's not going to reappoint them." Netters said the Mayor was complimentary in the Monday meeting, warning the two that the news might not be so well-received. "It was such a shock to me," said Netters, who also expressed concern over the future of the utility's Board itself. Herenton told Netters he was still awaiting the results of a charter review before making a decision about the Board, but mentioned he had no one in mind to replace the current board members. There are no official candidates to replace Morris either, although that has been the source of some political scuttlebutt, with some sources hinting that Roland McElrath, a former Memphis schools administrator is in the running. Netters said during his 20-year tenure on the Board, he has been tapped to fill the top spot on an interim basis. But he said the Mayor hasn't suggested that as a possibility in this instance, perhaps because of Netters' own plans to retire within the first six months of 2004. Herenton first turned up the heat on Morris at a December 2nd Council committee meeting. Councilmembers were debating a rate-hike, but the Mayor stole the show, decrying MLGW administration and hinting that change was in the wind. (Darrell Phillips first broke this story on WMC-TV Action News Five. This version is expressly for the Flyer, courtesy of the station.)

Monday, December 15, 2003

JONES RETRACTS SUPPORT OF SULLIVAN, BACKS MARRERO

JONES RETRACTS SUPPORT OF SULLIVAN, BACKS MARRERO

Posted By on Mon, Dec 15, 2003 at 4:00 AM

On the eve of the special Democratic primary election in state House District 89 to determine a successor to city council member-elect Carol Chumney, both contestants stood to gain important adherents:
  • Jeff Sullivan and his wife Maura were due to have their first child -- to be named Jack -- on or about the time of Tuesday’s election.
  • Beverly Robison Marrero was a more immediate beneficiary, however. She gained the support of city councilman E.C. Jones, whose name and likeness have been used on Sullivan’s literature in his support. Jones appeared with Marrero at a Monday afternoon press conference at the resident of her chief supporter and campaign strategist, state Senator Steve Cohen, and made public his change of heart. What follows is the text of a letter he had hand-delivered to Sullivan earlier Monday spelling out his reasons: Dear Jeff: I want to thank you and Maura for your support ever the years and friendship we have had, both socially and politically. When you announced that you would be a candidate for House Seat District 89, I certainly felt this was a great opportunity for you. At the time you ask [sic] me to support your effort and I told you that 1 would certainly be glad to support you, I was not aware that you were not a resident of the District As you know in my recent re-election campaign for the City Council, I was plagued with residency issues and addresses being used that I felt were not true. I am now faced with some questionable issues as to where you live. Due to my position during my campaign and one of my opponents using an address of a mini-storage, you are aware I campaigned against him, feeling that a person should live in the district at a real permanent address. I feel that I must withdraw mv endorsement for you and your bid for House District 89. I request that my name not be used on any campaign material. If you are elected to serve the citizens of Tennessee as Representative for House Seat 89, 1 will certairn!v support you and look forward to working with you I hope you understand my position concerning your campaign. I want to wish you the best in your endeavor. E.C. Jones cc. Mr. David Upton Ironically, the letter was addressed to Sullivan at the 791 N. Graham address which lies within the limits of District 89.It is this address, a rental property specified by Sullivan for early-voting purposes, which Marrero and Cohen have challenged as being fraudulent, alleging that Sullivan and his wife in fact still reside at a home they own on N. Reese St. just outside the district. (Jones acknowledged that he, too, lives outside District 89. As a successful candidate for reelection this fall, he was opposed by Wyatt Bunker, who listed as his domicile an address which turned out to be that of a storage facility where, Bunker contended, his brother was a resident manager.) At the press conference, Marrero said the issue was "not really a legal matter, [but] a matter of integrity." Cohen disagreed, contending Sullivan's listing the Graham address for voting purposes constituted a felony. As he pointed out, District Attorney General Bill Gibbons, a Sullivan supporter, has recused himself and referred the matter to an East Tennessee colleague.

    Thursday, December 4, 2003

    SENATOR PERSON TOUTS WILDER AS SPEAKER UNDER GOP

    SENATOR PERSON TOUTS WILDER AS SPEAKER UNDER GOP

    Posted By on Thu, Dec 4, 2003 at 4:00 AM

    If Tennessee Republicans are able to achieve a majority in the state Senate after next year’s elections, they may choose a Democrat to lead them. That’s if they follow the example of state Sen. Curtis Person (R-Memphis), who extolled the virtues of Lt. Gov. John Wilder (D-Somerville) at a well-attended fundraiser for Wilder Thursday night at the Memphis home of city councilman Jack Sammons. Person, who has held legislative office since 1966 and has been opposed only twice during that period, left no doubt as to his own loyalties. After toasting Wilder for empowering the Senate “as independent body” some three decades ago, Person said flatly, “If the Republicans gain control of the Senate next year, I want it known that I’ll vote for John Wilder to be Speaker once again.” Person’s statement was reminiscent of remarks he and other leading Senate Republicans made on Wilder’s behalf three years ago when the Speaker was challenged by Savannah Mayor Bob Shutt, who had gained the GOP nomination but got limited support from partymates statewide. Wilder won that one easily. Since surviving two purge attempts by Democratic factions in the '80s, Wilder, a sturdy octogenarian who does two vigorous bicycle rides a day, has presided over the Senate as the choice of a bipartisan coalition. During brief remarks at the fundraiser Thursday night, Wilder quipped, "I think more people like me in Memphis than they do in Nashville." Other senators present at the fundraiser, where Wilder was introduced by FedEx founder Fred Smith, included Democrats Steve Cohen and Jim Kyle, both of Memphis, Jo Ann Graves of Gallatin, Don McCleary of Jackson, and Doug Henry of Nashville, and Republican Mark Norris of Collierville. Also attending were state Mental Health commissioner Virginia Betts, state Secretary of State Riley Darnell, state Comptroller John Morgan, state Treasurer Dale Sims, and numerous other politically influential members of both major political parties.

    Tuesday, December 2, 2003

    HERENTON TO MLGW: CHANGES ARE COMING

    HERENTON TO MLGW: CHANGES ARE COMING

    Posted By on Tue, Dec 2, 2003 at 4:00 AM

    In a blistering critique, Mayor Willie Herenton all but gave MLGW President Herman Morris and five board members their walking papers Tuesday. The surprise announcement, coupled with an admission that a property tax hike is likely within the next two years, came at an executive committee meeting of the City Council, which is weighing MLGW’s request for a seven-percent rate hike. Conceding that he does not know the utility’s fiscal situation as well as he knows city finances, Herenton said MLGW needs its first rate increase in eight years. “I fully support MLGW’s request for additional revenue,” he said. He suggested, however, that it be phased in over two years, with the increase in gas rates postponed until October of 2004. And he said the question of utility rates was secondary to the city’s overall financial needs and to MLGW’s performance. He then proceeded to rip MLGW for “costly mistakes in technology,” wasteful construction of a facility on Whitten Road, low morale, bloated salaries and benefits, “self-aggrandizing” advertising, top-heavy executive ranks, and “a number of employees who have bad attitudes” particularly in customer service. Herenton appointed Morris, an attorney formerly with the NAACP, and the five board members, including his pastor the Rev. James Netters. Their terms have expired but it is not uncommon for board members to continue to serve. Herenton said his management style is to give subordinates freedom to do their jobs until they mess up. “I’m into MLGW’s business because there have been some bad decisions,” he said, speaking firmly but without anger or sarcasm to a packed committee room. “We’ve allowed MLGW to operate as an island unto itself.” He said, in all apparent seriousness, that he intends to nominate “private citizen Willie Herenton” to the boar, triggering a predictable round of “King Willie” outrage on local talk radio stations. He did not mention Morris or any board members by name. Morris was in the committee room and listened carefully but declined to comment afterwards. Herenton has had a testy relationship with MLGW since he made an aborted proposal to sell it in 1998. Two events apparently set off his critique. First came the devastating wind storm last July and MLGW’s response to it. Herenton said service complaints spilled over into the mayor’s citizen’s service center because callers could not get through to MLGW. More recently there was an MLGW non-response to a letter that Herenton took as something of a snub. The mayor said he informed MLGW officials of his thinking two weeks ago and “they made no attempt to meet with me.” “I guarantee you in the future MLGW will have management that will not hesitate to meet with the mayor,” he said. Herenton said council members should consider the proposed utility rate hike in the context of a a sewer fee hike he said is vital and the strong probability of a property tax hike of 25 to 35 cents by 2006. Council members will decide on the rate hike while Herenton gets to make the calls at MLGW’s board and presidency. The mayor had sharp words for councilman Joe Brown as he got up to leave the room. He reminded councilmen that he had worked with 12 (out of 13) of them as chairman. Brown’s turn is coming next. “You’ve got one vote, Joe, one vote,” he said. Then, for good measure, “you don’t run nothin’” as he strode out of the room.
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