Directors of the Tennessee Valley Authority will continue to get staff briefings and deliberate actions in private committee meetings "because it just works better that way," TVA Chairman Bill Sansom said Friday.
"If just your family is around the table at home you're going to get different facts than if you have company," Sansom said. "When we're having dialogue with the employees of TVA, which we do big time in these committee meetings, the employees have to be comfortable telling us what is right and what is not and here's what you need to think about. You're not going to get that in an open environment."
The TVA chairman was responding to a request made to the new board on Thursday in Chattanooga by Garry Morgan, a member of the Bellefonte Efficiency and Sustainability Team, who has complained about TVA directors conducting most of their decision-making in private committee meetings of the board.
"Abuse of federal sunshine laws are not for the benefit of the people," he told the new board. "Your committee approval process is currently closed to public scrutiny, and we'd like to see that changed. Ladies and gentlemen of the board of directors, you have it within your hearts, minds and souls to do what is right for the benefit of the people."
Morgan complained that the notational approval of the hiring of TVA's new CEO, Bill Johnson, was done without even a public meeting by TVA, although the board did reaffirm its decision at a November public meeting. Johnson was hired by each director individually identifying his or her choice to succeed the retiring Tom Kilgore.
"The citizens are asking you to improve this process," Morgan said.
Former TVA Chairman Mike Duncan briefly considered opening TVA committee meetings to the public three years ago. But board members decided against having public sessions outside of TVA's quarterly or other called meetings.
Ralph E. Rodgers, executive vice president and general counsel for TVA, said Friday that the TVA Act requires that the board meet quarterly and the federal Sunshine Act provides that deliberations and decisions by a quorum of the board must be noticed and conducted in public.
"The committees are not groups that constitute a quorum of the board," Rodgers said.
Rodgers said he is not aware of TVA ever being sued for board actions under the Sunshine Act.
During the first four decades of its existence, the three-member TVA board did not have public meetings. TVA opened up its board meetings shortly before the federal Sunshine Act was first adopted in 1976.
Sansom said he believes TVA acts in an open and transparent manner consistent with the public's right to know and effective governance of a $12 billion-a-year corporation.
"You've got to be a little bit more careful what you do when you have an audience sitting out there (at board meetings)," Sansom said.