President Trump fires chairman of Tennessee Valley Authority over outsourcing

Published: Aug. 3, 2020 at 10:55 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - President Donald Trump fired the chairman of the board at the Tennessee Valley Authority on Monday and now the CEO’s job is on the line.

Memphis is the TVA’s largest customer. More than 400,000 MLGW homes and businesses in Shelby County get their power from the TVA.

President Trump says he shook up the federal agency’s leadership team because they’ve been firing American workers and sending their jobs to other countries. The dismissals coincided with a ceremony where Trump signed an executive order forbidding federal agencies from outsourcing jobs overseas.

Stacy Whetzell, a TVA engineer for 45 years, attended the signing. He was told a week ago that his job's going to a foreign worker.

“I do not know what will happen but there are a few of us here today who refused to back down, who refused to bend over,” said Whetzell.

Fellow TVA engineer Wendy Turner was also told she’s being outsourced, one of 200 TVA employees losing their jobs, and it couldn’t come at a worse time.

“It’s during the pandemic and now, I don’t know what we were going to do,” said Turner. “It’s just been devastating all around.”

Trump quickly moved to fire TVA Board Chairman Skip Thompson, who he nominated to the board in 2017. He also fired board member Richard Howorth, the former 2-term Oxford, Mississippi mayor and owner of Square Books. Howorth oversaw the Oxford Electric Department as mayor and chaired the TVA Board from 2017-2019.

The president said more firings are possible.

“If the TVA does not move swiftly to reverse their decision to rehire their workers, then more board members will be removed,” he said.

And there is a Memphian, John Ryder, who still sits on the TVA board right now. Ryder served as general counsel for the Republican National Committee from 2013 to 2017. He’s a bankruptcy and election law attorney with the Harris Shelton Law firm in Memphis.  He is also an attorney for the Shelby County Election Commission. Ryder was unavailable for comment about the president’s actions Monday night.

Trump was also critical of the $8 million annual salary of TVA CEO Jeff Lyash, saying the new CEO should make no more than $500,000 The president’s comments earned him rare praise from across the aisle.

“I think the president’s right,” said U.S. Congressman Steven Cohen, a Democrat from Memphis. “He’s right on the TVA, and he’s right on this man’s salary.”

During that White House meeting, the president’s Chief of Staff, Mark Meadows, handed him a note indicating he’d just spoken with the TVA CEO and that Lyash would “reverse course and protect American jobs.”

TVA later tweeted: “We look forward to working with the White House, continuing a dialogue and supporting future policies in this direction.”

The TVA is a federal agency created in 1933 to provide flood control, electricity generation, fertilizer manufacturing and economic development in the Tennessee Valley, a region devastated during the Great Depression. The region covers most of Tennessee, parts of Alabama, Mississippi and Kentucky as well as sections of Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia.

After 80 years with TVA, MLGW and city leaders are shopping rates to see if another power supplier would be cheaper. The TVA claims Memphis power rates would go up 20% if MLGW ends its relationship with TVA.

The agency offered to bring 100 jobs to Memphis and buy MLGW’s electric transmission lines for $400 million if the city-owned utility stays put.

TVA officials also said they could invest another $135 million over 10 years in revitalizing inner-city neighborhoods in the Bluff City and improving energy efficiency.

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