TVA hiring of CEO Bill Johnson didn't break Sunshine law

TVA hiring of CEO Bill Johnson didn't break Sunshine law

May 7th, 2013 by Dave Flessner in Business Around the Region

TVA logo

Bill Johnson is president and chief executive officer of the Tennessee Valley Authority.

Bill Johnson is president and chief executive officer...

Photo by Angela Lewis /Times Free Press.

Directors of the Tennessee Valley Authority didn't violate the federal Sunshine law when they hired Bill Johnson as chief executive last November without a public meeting, the utility's internal watchdog said Monday.

The TVA inspector general said the TVA board was within its rights to hire Johnson using a notational approval from each of the members of the then six-member board. In a 10-page report released Monday, TVA Assistant Inspector General John Brennan said the board didn't deliberate among members over the hiring selection and therefore didn't violate the requirements of the Sunshine Act to conduct board deliberations in public.

"Notational procedure [with each board member casting votes without board deliberation] is not prohibited by the Sunshine Act, and the board followed that process," Brennan concluded.

Garry Morgan, a member of the Bellefonte Efficiency and Sustainability Team who asked for the inspector general investigation of Johnson's hiring, said he was disappointed in the secret process used by the board in making one of its most important decisions.

"The TVA has taken the route of ignoring openness and instead supports secrecy and reneges in its responsibility to display openness in a major federal action which involved the final selection of its CEO," Morgan said Monday. "Increasingly, the TVA is turning its head and ignoring openness in its meeting process."

The inspector general report said the board didn't want to reveal the names of any of the candidates for the TVA CEO post, which was created last year with the retirement of Tom Kilgore as head of TVA.

"Making the candidates' identities known might jeopardize their current jobs or jobs to which they may have applied," the inspector general report said.

The TVA board interviewed candidates for CEO in September and October of 2012, but TVA's general counsel advised the board not to discuss any views or impressions about the candidates. The individual impressions about the board members were compiled and a consultant hired by the board to help in the CEO selection, Albert McAuley, then talked one on one with board members to determine who they wanted to hire.

TVA spokesman Duncan Mansfield said the board "is committed to working in an open and transparent manner" and has met in open session for board meetings since 1975. Once the board picked Johnson and Chairman Bill Sansom negotiated his pay, the hiring was announced on Nov. 5, 2012.

Morgan said if TVA wants to act in private like a private company "then it should go ahead and accept the Obama administration's proposal to become an investor-owned utility answerable to its shareholders."

"But if TVA wants to be a public utility and get the advantages of being a government agency, it needs to operate in the open and let the public which owns TVA see what the board is doing," Morgan said.

Morgan said he still believes that TVA violated the Sunshine Act, but he said he doesn't have the financial resources to mount a lawsuit against TVA.