Turn Out The Lights

Some weeks back, when Mayor Willie Herenton first commissioned a feasibility study on the possible sale of Memphis Light, Gas and Water, we were cautiously open-minded. The mayor’s plan to seek more information on the value of our city-owned utility seemed justifiable in light of upcoming utility deregulation. But not now, a week or so after the mayor floated – and quickly retracted – the idea of selling MLGW without a voter referendum.

If we hadn’t already known the fact, the episode demonstrated clearly that opposition to the sale cuts wide and deep among the populace. Memphians, who currently enjoy some of the lowest rates in the country, seem mightily disinclined to put control of their utility bills in the hands of private enterprise. Nor do they seem the least bit tempted by the supposed financial windfall that might thereby fall into city coffers. They seem convinced that the money would be subject to political vagaries and wouldn’t necessarily be funneled back into the pocketbooks of the people. City council members, having heard at length from their constituents, have shown little to no support for Herenton’s proposal. Rival politicians, harboring past- or future-tense quarrels with the mayor, made it clear they were ready to rock and roll with the MLGW issue – especially after the mayor’s ill-considered floating of the no-referendum idea. In short, with the notable exceptions of the Morgan Keegan brokerage firm and Philadelphia consultant-at-large Rotan Lee, the mayor stands pretty much alone on this one.

Mayor Herenton would have been well advised to be specific, at least, about how the city would use any financial windfall – perhaps in the definite prospect of a property-tax decrease, for example, or with a pledge to use the money to hire more police or teachers. But all of this now seems moot. No matter how the mayor spins the sale of MLGW, the citizens of Memphis just aren’t buying it. Even holding a referendum would seem to be a waste of time, energy, and more money. n

Slipping And Sliding

From the very beginning, we had doubts about the wisdom of playing host for two years to the National Football League’s itinerant Oilers, ex- of Houston and merely biding time until owner Bud Adams’ team can relocate in Nashville in 1999 with a new name and a new stadium. Our doubts were largely based on three decades’ worth of local disappointments with the NFL and on Adams’ suspect commitment to Memphis.

We recognize, however, that the Sports Authority bargained in good faith with the Oilers and that the team, in its first season here, actually did develop a bit of a local fan base. Moreover, terms of the two-year lease do confer some tangible financial benefits on the city.

Now it has become obvious that Adams and the NFL, abetted by Nashville Mayor Phil Bredesen, are angling hard to break that lease and to move the Oilers to Nashville a year early. We support attorney John Ryder, chairman Avron Fogelman, and the other principals of the Sports Authority 100 percent in their determination to hold the Oilers to what should be a binding contract for a second year in Memphis.

If Adams and the NFL insist on trying to slip out of their commitment, they can be sure that the local fan base for this would-be “statewide” team will slide all the way down to zero. And that’s on top of the real and punitive damages we’ll be entitled to collect. n

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