A former editor at the The Commercial Appeal and scores of other influential and prominent people in Memphis were flagged for special attention by former MLGW CEO Herman Morris in 2002.
E-mails and other documents released by MLGW on Tuesday, the day MLGW head Joseph Lee was testifying before a federal grand jury, cast a new light on the story which has been breaking piecemeal over the last week.
Ironically, the trigger for the special attention e-mail from Morris was a personal note from the wife of a former editor at the Commercial Appeal, which has been leading the charge against Lee and ran a headline on the front page Tuesday which said, "CEO Lee stopped utility cutoff of nonpaying Ford."
That is only part of the story. In fact, dozens of documents from 2001, 2002, and 2003 show that MLGW was continuously coping with Edmund Ford's overdue bills and granting him numerous extensions while Morris was CEO. Ford is a City Council member and formerly chaired the committee that oversees MLGW.
Mayor Willie Herenton appointed Lee to succeed Morris in 2004. Morris is considering a possible mayoral race against Herenton this year.
In the 2002 e-mail, Morris worries that a billing matter involving an unnamed "editor of the CA could set editorial policy toward MLGW for years and must be handled with touch." Morris urges vice president Curtis Dillihunt and Mark Heuberger, who was then manager of corporate communications, "make sure we handle this matter with sensitivity."
Then Morris suggests that MLGW develop a list of customers "that require my special awareness, attention or staff intervention when they have problems." He says that "customers who can call me or the mayor at home should be on the list," which he says should include all city council members, county commission members, state legislators, television news directors, and several prominent businessmen.
No member of the Memphis Flyer or parent company Contemporary Media made the cut.
There is no documentation to show that anyone other than Ford got preferential treatment. In Ford's case, MLGW released several cutoff notices going back to 2001. In some cases the service was "booted" off but in most cases, according to handwritten notations, Ford either made a partial payment or promised to make one and the service was not cut off.
Ford is under federal indictment for allegedly taking bribes from lobbyist Joe Cooper.