TVA nuclear chief Preston Swafford will be paid an extra $552,488 as severance for leaving the federal utility by October reports the Chattanooga TFP. In a Securities and Exchange filing today, the Tennessee Valley Authority said Swafford’s resignation is considered “an approved termination” and he will also be eligible for executive bonuses and incentive awards paid to top managers this year.
Swafford, 53, announced this week he will retire from TVA by October. He is being replaced by Joseph P. Grimes, an executive with Exelon Nuclear.
Grimes, who has worked in the utility industry for 30 years, is scheduled to start work with TVA around Labor Day. In a statement this week, TVA Chief Generation Officer Charles “Chip” Pardee, also a former Exelon executive, said that Grimes is the right person to lead TVA’s nuclear division.
Swafford also was hired by TVA from Exelon in 2006 and was paid $2.3 million in fiscal 2012 as TVA’s executive vice president in charge of running TVA’s three operating nuclear plants.
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A new University of Tennessee report finds that if the federal government decides to go ahead with divesting the Tennessee Valley Authority, the public utility could be broken up among several private power generators in the region.
The study conducted by the school’s Howard H. Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy was released on Monday. It finds that it would be unlikely that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission would approve the sale of the entire TVA to a single company.
President Barack Obama’s 2014 budget proposal calls for a strategic review of the TVA, the nation’s largest public utility with 9 million customers in seven states from Virginia to Mississippi.
The TVA was created in 1933 to control flooding and bring electricity to rural Appalachia.
While one bold plan to enhance to the political power of the Legislature’s partisan caucuses sank into the 2013 session sunset last week amid considerable media clamor and political rhetoric, a subtle plan with the same general goal was quietly positioned for passage.
Sen. Frank Niceley was author of plan No. 1, which would have allowed Republican state legislators to pick the Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate while Democratic legislators chose the Democratic nominee.
The Strawberry Plains farmer pitched his proposal as a way to fix a broken Washington, delivering “a little history lesson” about how the Founding Fathers fashioned things so legislatures directly named a state’s U.S. senators until the 17th amendment to the U.S. Constitution was enacted in 1913.
Niceley’s critics focused on the simple fact that the his proposal would eliminate the right of average Republican and Democratic voters to choose their party standard bearers in a primary election. Another criticism was that the old pre-1913 system produced some real episodes of corruption in the legislative deal-cutting process — at least in other states.
Virtually ignored by both sides was the most intriguing aspect of Niceley’s plan: It would substantially reduce the impact of money in the political system.
There’s a long tradition of urban versus rural clashes in the Tennessee General Assembly, observes Frank Cagle, and these days it’s the urban folks who are losing power. The Republican takeover has brought a lot of changes to state government, but none more so than the shift of political power from the cities to more rural areas. There are places like suburban Williamson County (Franklin) where legislators are dictating to Nashville metro government, despite Davidson County being much more heavily populated. Suburbs like Germantown over in Shelby County have more political clout than Memphis, the largest city in the state.
In past decades, Knox County’s City County Building might have been predominately Republican, but local officeholders knew that if they really needed a bill they had to call on Democratic House members Joe Armstrong or Harry Tindell. Both were powerful committee chairs and had the ear of the leadership. That’s not the case anymore. Tindell retired and has been replaced by first-term member Gloria Johnson. Armstrong is still respected by his colleagues and retains his institutional knowledge. He’s been in the House since 1988. But he doesn’t have the power he once had as part of the House leadership.
Current conditions are unlike the old days in that districts are not unfairly drawn. It is a political problem that is unlikely to be resolved unless major cities elect more Republicans or Democrats start to win in the suburbs or win back traditionally Democratic rural counties in West and Middle Tennessee.
That could take a generation
Republican Sen. Bo Watson says his bill establishing a framework to handle pole attachment issues between the public power distributors that own them and investor-owned cable companies is an attempt to resolve a years-long fight, reports Andy Sher. But the Tennessee Cable Telecommunications Association, which represents cable operators such as Comcast, charges the bill will result in a “new, outrageously high fee on broadband providers across the state.”
The bill, sponsored in the House by Rep. Jimmy Matlock, R-Lenoir City, is scheduled to come before a Senate committee today.
Watson said the bill is an attempt to resolve issues between the cable industry and municipal electric services, such as Chattanooga’s EPB, and rural electric cooperatives.
“If you keep in mind that the co-ops’ and municipal electric services’ No. 1 mission in life is to keep electric rates as low as possible, well, anything that shifts the costs of that pole onto the ratepayers is potentially raising the rate of electricity, which is counter to the mission that [they] have,” Watson said.
Under current law, no one can attach lines or otherwise use the poles without the consent of utilities.
The bill establishes a cost-sharing framework for pole attachment fee negotiations between utilities and attaching parties. It also creates a dispute resolution mechanism for unsuccessful negotiations between parties.
Cable operators charge it would nearly double the rates they currently pay and are pressing their own bill sponsored by Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, and Rep. Steve McManus, R-Cordova.
EPB spokesman John Pless said in an email statement that the municipal electric service “does not want our electric customers to subsidize the cable industry. Comcast pays us an average of $1.02 per utility pole per month. The cost to own and maintain each one of our utility poles is about $100 to $120 per year.
Gov. Bill Haslam graciously consented to including a 75-bill limit on annual introductions of legislation by his administration last week and the restriction was thereupon approved as part of House rules — along with a 15-bill limit on legislators.
As a practical matter, of course, this is not a big restraint upon gubernatorial production of legislative ideas. Last year, Haslam’s administration proposed 55 bills. So, if he meets the new limit, the governor will have 20 more bills under the restriction this year than under last year’s unlimited filing.
In contrast, some individual legislators introduced more than 100 bills last session. The 15-bill limit will thus mean a big change in such folks’ standard operating procedure — perhaps for the better in many cases.
Still, the practical effect is a limitation on legislators; no limitation on the governor. A handful of representatives, both Republicans and Democrats, complained about this as a lessening of legislative powers versus gubernatorial powers.
The Commercial Appeal has a profile story on Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, “arguably the most powerful legislator west of Nashville.”
Excerpt: This farmer-lawyer-legislator has come a long way to reach his current perch of power. From the night his wife cried herself to sleep when he asked what she thought about him going into politics. From his fight over a developer’s plans to build a golf course across from his tranquil farm that gave birth to his political career. And from those prickly days on the Shelby County Commission when former Mayor Jim Rout was ready to give him a one-way ticket to Nashville.
Though as Senate majority leader Norris carries the governor’s legislative agenda, he sees himself as more of a technician, the one who figures out how to get from point A to point C. And while he understands the significance of the school legislation, it isn’t what he’d point to as the bill he’s most proud of. That would be the effort he led to amend the state constitution to provide tax relief to senior citizens. Or maybe the designation of Tennessee’s “west coast” as a national scenic byway. Then there’s Electrolux, Mitsubishi.The Republican super majority — with Norris leading the charge — may have given unprecedented power in the state legislature to Shelby County suburbs for the first time. Critics contend his tactics have been unfair to the city of Memphis and have changed the rules of the game.
He sees things differently.
“I consider myself to be a Shelby Countian, a Memphian,” he said. “I live in Collierville’s reserve. I don’t live in any municipality. I have a Collierville mailing address. But since 1980, my office has been downtown. My wife’s family’s business has been downtown. I think I have more of a sense of community than a sense of suburbia or that kind of thing.”
Speaker Beth Harwell’s move to impose limits on bill introductions, if accepted by the full House, should indeed save money and speed things up in Legislatorland, just as she predicts. But it has other ramifications, possibly including a lessening of legislative power, that may stir some misgivings.
The 10-bills-per-year limit is part of a shake-up in House operations proposed by the speaker as she begins a second two-year term with a new Republican supermajority in place. The rest of the package is substantial and substantive, though perhaps less controversial.
Legislative leaders have talked for decades about limiting bill introductions, but nothing has been done until now. It’s worth noting that Gov. Bill Haslam made a point — after 2,200 bills were introduced in the 2011 session — of saying the number should be cut by about a third and that he’d work with legislative leaders on meeting that goal.
Said the governor at the time: “One of the points that we try to make is that every bill that’s proposed actually does cost money. We have commissioners who have to run down and say, ‘How does this impact? What’s it going to cost?’ And then we have to have a position on that.”
He’s right, of course. Every bill introduced costs staff time and taxpayer money. And many duplicate other bills, are frivolous or even downright goofy.
So the governor prodded the legislative leadership on the matter about 18 months ago. Harwell subsequently sounded out House members, and now we have action in response to gubernatorial guidance.
Gov. Bill Haslam wisely waited until the day after 107th General Assembly had permanently adjourned to announce he was for the first time exercising a right granted by the state constitution to act as judge, jury and executioner of legislative acts.
Actually, the governor only rarely is assured of executioner status. But Haslam has it with the veto of a bill that would outlaw Vanderbilt University’s “all-comers” policy.
As Haslam has noted in explaining why he didn’t veto other stuff, a gubernatorial veto can be overriden by a simple majority of the Legislature. The “all-comers” bill passed 19-12 in the Senate; 61-22 in the House.
At the federal level and in many states, a two-thirds majority is required to override, which in this case means a repeat of the original vote on an override effort would have meant sustaining the veto. Not so in Tennessee.
Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero and mayors of the state’s three other largest cities talked to Gov. Bill Haslam and legislative leaders Wednesday with a consensus concern about a trend toward the state taking power from local government.
“That’s our No. 1 priority,” said Rogero of the joint visits of the “big four” mayors with Haslam, House Speaker Beth Harwell, Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey and others during the day.
“At the state level we don’t like the feds telling us what to do,” she said, and local governments feel the same about state officials dictating to them.
The other mayors were Karl Dean of Nashville, A C Wharton of Memphis and Ron Littlefield of Chattanooga.
“It was the first time all four of us have been together,” she said. “So it was great to get together and talk and to be in sync with each other on the issues that impact the big cities.”
Rogero cited some examples of pending legislation that could have a negative impact on local governments. One is HB3386, which would prohibit local governments from requiring city contractors to provide a specified level of benefits to employees.
Memphis, for example, now requires city contractors to pay more than the federal; minimum wage. Knoxville does not and Rogero said there are no plans to do so.
“Whether we do it now or not is not the issue,” she said. “It’s another of those bills that preempt local authority. We would like to have more autonomy on the local level and have the state let us make the decisions on what’s best for us.”
Another bill Rogero criticized was HB2989 is sponsored by Rep. Ryan Haynes, R-Knoxville. The measure would allow a landowner who has legal rights to use property for purposes outside zoning laws to extend that “non-conforming use” to adjoining properties that the company or individual owns.
The mayor said that passage could jeopardize zoning regulations needed in city redevelopments such as South Waterfront, Cumberland Avenue and Downtown North.
Haynes said he is willing to work with city officials on revisions to be bill, including a change to assure that a property owner cannot buy adjoining property and then have a “non-conforming use.”