Willie W. Herenton kicked off his fifth term as mayor with a surprise, announcing his decision to forego a national search for a new Memphis Light, Gas, and Water division president and to nominate interim MLGW head and director of public works Jerry Collins instead. The City Council approved Collins, 53, a longtime city employee, November 6th.
Collins was born and raised in Memphis, graduating from White Station High School and the University of Memphis. An engineer by training, Collins began his service to the city 28 years ago.
At the time, the city's "two wastewater treatment plants were fairly new," Collins says, "but on many days, the effluent leaving the plants was dirtier than the influent coming into the plants. EPA was having a fit. They threatened to put Mayor Wyeth Chandler in jail." Public works hired the then-25-year-old Collins to run the facilities.
— Preston Lauterbach
Flyer: Do you see similarities between your start at public works and at mlgw?
Jerry Collins: The public perception [of the utility company] may not be what we want it to be. Finishing last or next to last in the J.D. Power [2007 electric utility residential customer satisfaction] poll is not good. In a sense, there may be a parallel.
How do you restore public confidence in MLGW?
We have to take care of problems on the first call. We have to make sure that MLGW is not the subject of headlines and TV news pieces. We're preaching that we want to be dull and boring. If we're doing what we're supposed to be doing, there's no reason that MLGW should be in the limelight.
What have you learned in going from public works to MLGW?
It's more similar than you might think. The same factors that affect wastewater rates affect electric rates, gas rates, and water rates. ... They're all basic public services that rely on a web of in-place infrastructure and charge a dedicated fee for those services.
What lessons can you take from your predecessors?
We want to enlarge our role in the community, and build our relationship with the union that represents MLGW employees, which Joseph Lee did. Cost control was important during Herman Morris' tenure, and cost control is something I value at public works and will continue to value at MLGW.
Will you maintain a VIP list?
There is no list. I have no intention for there to be a list. Every customer is of equal value to MLGW.
One last thing: knowing what you know, would you purchase gas or electric appliances for your home?
I would probably purchase electric. It's more likely that, long-term, the price of gas will escalate faster than the price of electricity.