Trump gets head start on TVA board

Victor Ashe
Government/Politics columnist

Three nominees of President Barack Obama for the TVA board of directors were not confirmed by the U.S. Senate and will, consequently, depart the board in 10 days, reducing the nine-member board to six members.

The terms of two more expire in May 2017, for a total of five off the board.

The current chair, Joe Ritch, from Huntsville, is one, which means the next chair (interim or acting) will be Lynn Evans, the first woman and African-American ever to chair the TVA board.

Current bylaws provide that Evans, chair of the audit committee, becomes the TVA acting chair when Ritch leaves the board. But the board is also required to meet within 30 days of the current chair’s departure to elect a new chair, who might be Evans or one of the other remaining five board members. All are Democrats.

Two current committee chairs, Mike McWherter and Peter Mahurin, also depart, creating vacancies there. And if Evans is elected chair, then she vacates the audit committee chairmanship. Evans’ term expires in May, but she continues on the board until the end of 2017 unless her successor is confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

For the first time in memory, the East Tennessee area does not have a single current board member, while West Tennessee has three board members and Middle Tennessee has two. TVA is, of course, headquartered in Knoxville.

President-elect Donald Trump can nominate three new members after Jan. 20 and two more in May, for a total of five – a majority of the board. Sen. Jeff Sessions, who will likely become attorney general, will have a voice in the picks. Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker will also have a strong voice, as will Kentucky’s senators, Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, and Rand Paul.

Trump is expected to name only Republicans to the board.

A problem for TVA will be if these five seats are not filled by the end of 2017, there will not be a quorum to hold board meetings. This has happened to TVA once before and it simply means the staff (i.e. Bill Johnson) assumes full control, in reality if not in law.

This could change. The Wall Street Journal has been calling around about a possible story saying Trump will name board members who are coal advocates to change current TVA policy. As of my writing this column, that story had not yet appeared.

KCDC opts for new direction

KCDC shocked everyone last week when it picked Ben Bentley over Alvin Nance as its executive director to follow Art Cate.

Nance, the former director who had been there 14 years, was the first black leader of KCDC. Bentley is in his 30s, married with one child. Mayor Rogero and Deputy Mayor Bill Lyons had advocated Nance. All seven board members are Rogero appointees. Nance received very positive reviews when he led the agency.

What happened?

In talking with Dan Murphy, KCDC board chair and former Knox County school board chair, he said, “We looked to the future. Either one would have been a good pick. (Bentley) is extraordinarily bright and a visionary. He is a superstar.”

Asked if the vote was unanimous, Murphy said that, after all the interviews concluded, he did not ask for a motion to choose someone but rather a show of hands between Bentley and Nance, the two finalists. He said the show of hands indicated four were for Bentley and three for Nance.

According to Murphy, the Bentley votes were Murphy, attorney John Winemiller, Jackie Arthur and Kimberly Hickman, the resident commissioner. Nance had support from Bob Whetsel, attorney and former KUB chair Bruce Anderson and Gloria Garner. All then agreed to make the choice unanimous. Had one vote switched, Nance would have prevailed, but it was not to be.

Obviously, a majority wanted a new direction for KCDC. Bentley was impressive by all accounts in his interview. While no one would mention age (due to legal considerations) it was clear Bentley’s youth in this case worked in his favor. The two black members of the commission split between Nance and Bentley.

A contract has to be drafted and salary and relocation expenses set. It will be voted on Dec. 30. This column will advise you of the salary and whether it reflects an increase over previous directors.

Condolences to state Rep. Martin Daniel, whose mother, Mary Barker, died last week in Memphis at age 86.

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