Thursday, May 03, 2007

Herenton Hooks MLG&W Off The Stage


(No links in this story, as it's late and I don't care. You can go to Richard Thompson's blog to get the details, if you need 'em. Tell Richard I sent you.)

So Herenton walks out today and "calmly" announces he's "accepted" Joe Lee and Odell Horton's resignations. How much you want to bet it was a resign or get fired scenario? Then he shifts the spotlight off the ongoing problems of MLG&W's top management onto himself. Then he chides the media. In one swooping gesture, he's reframed the whole situation.

It's darkly comic that now that Lee's unemployed, the issue of who is going to pay the $62,000+ in legal bills is moot, although Lee can't be "re-imbursed" (Odell Horton's phrase in his letter.) until he's paid the bill first.

It's worth noting that Spence's bill was only for work done through April 9th. There's still another three or four weeks he might bill for yet to be invoiced. Also, does anyone believe that Spence put in 30 to 40 hours a week, if you believe his invoices, just on Lee? I sure don't.

I'm also curious that Gale Jones Carson, supposedly the Director of Corporate Communications has been strangely invisible in most of this. You'd think, in the interest of keeping everyone and everything on the same page, that she'd be the lone voice of MLG&W in this. But no, various folks -- especially Nick Clark and Odell Horton and Robert Spense and Joe Lee -- all seem to be circumventing her. And look at the mess it's made.

It strikes me that what Herenton has now done is basically two-fold. First, the MLG&W mess has been brought to a close. If further improprieties are discovered, Herenton can simply dismiss them with "Joseph Lee isn't there any more. Let's move on." I'll be watching to see who does the talking for MLG&W now.

The media was directed to come to him. He's famous for closing them out and batting them away. Result? Case closed on MLG&W, whether the media likes it or not. At least that's how I hear what he said today.

He's also, in a sense, demonstrated his leadership as Mayor. True, he allowed the mess to linger on by standing by Lee and not accepting his resignation when it was offered the first time. But in Herenton's lights, I'm sure he believes he's demonstrated decisiveness and quiet leadership. This situation has been giving ammunition to his enemies, like rival mayoral candidates Carol Chumney and Herman Morris, instead of capturing them in a morass of impotent finger-pointing and blowback. With it gone, Chumney and Morris no longer have anything to attack him with. Why it took him so long to see this, I don't know; it seems a rare misstep for him.

Unless, of course, you believe that he's still interested in selling MLG&W at some point and Lee was his point man for setting the utility up for sale. Propping up Lee was crucial in that process, seen in that light. Losing him can derail that process, too.

Which brings me to an important point. Back when Joe Lee was first nominated for his position, Herenton simply pulled his name from thin air. Lee had no experience at all in utilities. Carol Chumney, and other City Councillors, raised a fuss and demanded that Herenton go through a real candidate selection process. A job description was put out and something like half-a-dozen candidates applied. The Commercial Appeal duly printed their resumes and interviewed a few. A couple of them had long and extensive experience and likely would have made excellent presidents.

Ha! Fooled you! Herenton pulled the rug out from under everyone by putting Lee up, again, as his nominee. It was a slap in the face to the city and the City Council. Belief in Herenton's plan to sell MLG&W hardened; Lee was instantly put into a defensive position.

This time, I hope the whole City Council will make damn sure that Herenton goes through an entire candidate recruitment and selection process before any names are offered up. Not a sham, but the real thing. The City Council should demand assurances, referencing the Joe Lee fiasco. The City Council should make it clear that the person nominated can only come from the list developed by this process.

And, the speech writer who was hired to make Joe Lee look good for $90,000+ a year needs to be let go. She's not needed any more.

Anyone want to take bets that Lee and Horton will still end up somewhere in the vast public-private sphere that Herenton's built up over the past decade? Cushy, low-workload jobs that still pay around the $100,000 mark? People have noted that Lee's wife is on the RDC; will Lee join her? Will Horton find himself in the City Attorney's office? We shall see.

I'd also like to note that the latest issue of the Main Street Journal, the magazine I now write for, has a short piece by me on MLG&W and Mayor Herenton. I wrote it back on March 28th and in it I asked who was paying Robert Spence's fees. Glad to see my suspicions were borne out.

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