What the Public Rates

There is no doubt that MLGW administrators and workers performed heroically and persevered through long hours and multiple hardships to reestablish service to Shelby Countians after last month's monumentally destructive windstorm. In the end, full restoration to the last batch of customers occurred much earlier than some of the more pessimistic projections had indicated. All this is on the credit side of the ledger.

But there's a debit side too, as well as numerous uncertainties that still need to be addressed -- especially since MLGW plans to seek a rate increase for its customers. Coincidentally or not, Entergy -- the northern Mississippi utility which was largely rebuffed in its offer of aid in the Memphis cleanup -- has announced that its customers won't have to pony up anything extra as a consequence of the same storm.

MLGW's demands on its ratepayers have apparently been necessitated not just by storm damage or by ordinary demand/supply considerations but by the utility's own investment decisions. Four years ago, MLGW agreed to put $20 million into a controversial public-private broadband network, Memphis Networx, at a time when the oversupply of broadband was becoming a national business story. Then, two years ago, it agreed to pump another $65 million over 27 years into FedExForum, using payments in lieu of taxes from the water division. No less an authority than MLGW CEO Herman Morris, in his former role as the utility's chief attorney, once opined that such funds could only properly be used to reduce rates.

It is also disturbing to learn that MLGW officials turned a television reporter out of their offices last week for asking "impertinent"questions. The utility apparently thinks the media ought to act more like its fellow monopolist, The Commercial Appeal, which shamelessly kowtowed to MLGW in last Sunday's "Viewpoint" section, which was adorned with the utility's full-page "Thank You" ad.

We think that the community still requires answers, even more so if it is being asked to increase the price it pays for MLGW's services. We are not so much interested in either sending or receiving valentines as we are in getting those answers.

Whose Army?

While we're at it, there is one more issue we'd like to see clarified. District Attorney General Bill Gibbons announced last week that he would file first-degree murder indictments against three employees of a local day-care agency charged with responsibility in the death of a child left untended in a van. The same day, a jury returned a verdict of manslaughter against a defendant who fired through a closed residential door, missing his intended target but fatally wounding a child.

What's wrong with this picture?

Amber Cox-Cody was, through evident and inexcusable negligence, overlooked and left in a day-care van to suffocate. If found guilty, the three day-care employees should be given serious punishment, indeed. But first-degree murder? By definition, that category exists for the most willful and premeditated of capital crimes, and it holds the defendants under prohibitive bonds of $250,000. We are pleased that Gibbons wants, as he said, to send "a strong message," but that message should not be at odds with the traditions of evenhanded law. Nor should Gibbons confuse his role as a public official with that of a general in what has been dubbed -- with admirable energy and no doubt the best of intentions -- Amber's Army.



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