Lee had declined to be interviewed as part of the outside investigation of MLGW conducted during the past two weeks. The City Attorney's office contracted Saul Belz to conduct the investigation of MLGW policies and procedures, and the council invited Belz to question Lee.
Spence explained that Lee would answer council members questions because Lees ethics [and] his integrity have been questioned. And by questioning his integrity, you question his good name. He is here to defend his good name.
An impassioned Lee addressed the council, declaring I want it to be clearly, convincingly, and plainly understood that I have not received a benefit, gift, or anything of value from any council member, including Edmund Ford at any time I did not participate in any criminal or illegal activity.
Lee claimed that he had tried to bring a level of compassion to his work at MLGW. He brought a file folder bulging with his MLGW customer correspondence to illustrate. I said that Edmund Ford was treated differently, and he was. But so were all of these customers, Lee said.
I have never instructed a staff person to cut [anyone] off. I say work with the customer, he added.
Councilman Joe Brown called the investigation tainted, saying, if its about policy, lets talk about policy. All I can see is Edmund Ford. Is this about Edmund Ford, or is this about policy?
Lees refusal to answer questions directly from Belz, who was sitting directly across from him, forced Belz to pose his questions through councilman Tom Marshall. Marshall, then, asked Belz what Belz would have asked Lee. Marshall posed the questions to Lee as laughter rippled through the audience.
Marshall urged Lee to speak with Belz directly, assuring Lee that there are a lot of people out there that dont necessarily think youre guilty of much.
Ford gestured wildly throughout the proceeding, and at times held a Bible aloft.
Lee defended himself variously, denying awareness of certain MLGW policies, claiming to run the utility with compassion toward its customers, and even citing the 17,800 accounts in arrears as evidence of this. Lee attributed the companys handling of Fords account to staff recommendations that he accepted.
The Belz report, however, showed a more hands-on approach to the Ford account.
Marshall explained, We couldnt find any more instances where you directed an account other than that of councilman Edmund Fords, to be retained, and not cut off.
Councilwoman Carol Chumney, the councils MLGW committee chairperson, banged the gavel throughout the rowdy meeting, and demanded order from her fellow councilmen and the audience.
The fun had barely started. Ford took the floor, and launched into a lengthy tirade. He claimed that his kindness to his constituents had caused him this trouble. Maybe thats my problem, he said. I help people.
Ford went on to claim that the well-publicized delinquent MLGW account in his name is for a property that he does not own. He accused Marshall of initiating the inquiry for personal reasons. I want [Marshall] to stop it today, or I will write a letter asking [him] to step down [as City Council chairman.]
Ford turned to Marshall and said, I really want to be your friend.
Brown called the MLGW shake-up a coup. He followed that up saying that those council members behind it could never muster the eleven (out of thirteen) member votes needed to oust Lee. Brown told Lee directly, You dont have to worry about being replaced by this body.
Belz had presented the council members with a written report of his findings at 10 a.m. The council referred to the document throughout their questioning of Lee.
Councilman Jack Sammons noted an account record included in the report of a MLGW employee who requested an extension on his utility bill until the ensuing payday. The employee explained that his wife was recovering from a brain tumor. MLGW ordered a cutoff.
Sammons asked Lee how he reconciled cutoffs of customers experiencing hardships while allowing Fords account to go unpaid indefinitely without cutoff.
Lee claimed not to be fully versed in the utilitys cutoff policies.
Chumney circulated copies of Lees resignation to the council members as the meeting closed, and stated that she will move for the council to accept Lees resignation at the April 3rd council meeting.
Citizens attending the meeting expressed a range of opinions regarding the matter. Theres nothing but a bunch of thugs running this place, remarked a man, why do you think Toyota didnt come here?
Another was more put out with Fords lack of discretion. Edmund abused his privileges, he said. Its like in college when you had the hook-up at the chicken place you dont go in for 20 pieces a day.