Rotan: Leave or, Light, Gas and Hot Air

Rotan Lee’s $150,000 study of the MLGW privatization issue should be terminated, and Mayor Willie Herenton, not taxpayers, should foot the bill.

The Memphis City Council looks set to bring an end to the MLGW study commissioned by Mayor Willie Herenton. Beyond denying Herenton’s request for an additional $150,000 for another six months of the study, the council should seriously consider making Herenton pay the first installment out of his own pocket or his campaign war chest and bar Herenton from making any more contracts with taxpayers’ money without council approval.

There are good reasons for restructuring MLGW, and it would be remiss of the council to stop the task force looking at the MLGW issue before it can fully investigate the alternatives to the current status of MLGW. For example, it might be prudent to formally transfer ownership of MLGW to its ratepayers, or to transfer the political control of the utility to the Shelby County Commission, which represents all of the citizens served by MLGW and would form the basis for a truly county-wide utility system that would provide services, including sewer service, without entangling the utility with Memphis’ annexation policy.

None of these reasons justify continued public funding, or indeed any public funding, for Rotan Lee’s utility study. The Memphis Flyer has reported that the Lee study, far from being the unbiased research that Herenton told the council he was seeking, was geared toward formulating a strategy to gain popular support for Herenton’s pro-privatization position. Memphis’ taxpayers have essentially been boondoggled out of $150,000 for a piece of political propoganda to support Herenton’s preconceived notions of the appropriate future for MLGW.

The privatization study appears, in retrospect, to be another example of Herenton’s propensity to make six-figure contracts with his cronies. His previous $123,000 expenditure on a report by Robert L. Green on the crime situation in Memphis has resulted in nothing more than hot air; the Memphis Police Department was apparently never contacted by the consultant, and no report has been made public. By comparision, a local task force on the same issue has come out with a report with detailed recommendations in less time and at little taxpayer cost.

The bottom line: don’t expect a report from Mr. Lee any time soon. Especially if Memphis does give him the additional $150,000 Herenton is asking for.

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