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Contributed photo / William Kilbride, the new chairman of the Tennessee Valley Authority

Two years after joining the Tennessee Valley Authority board of directors, William Kilbride was elected Wednesday as chairman of the TVA board, becoming the first Chattanoogan to serve as the TVA's chair in the utility's 88-year history.

Kilbride, the 70-year-old retired Mohawk Industries executive who previously headed the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce for three years, was chosen Wednesday by the current 7-member TVA board as its chairman.

"It's an incredible honor for me," Kilbride said Wednesday after he was elected chair.

Kilbride, who has previously chaired TVA's audit, risk and regulation committee, has served on most of the TVA board committees as a director since former Sen. Lamar Alexander helped put the retired executive on the TVA board in 2019.

"His professionalism, business acumen and leadership abilities make him highly qualified for this chair position," said TVA Director Kenny Allen, who nominated Kilbride to chair the TVA board.

As chair of America's biggest government-owned utility, Kilbride will preside over the board's quarterly meetings and help direct the part-time board to set policy, approve budgets and oversee TVA's operations, including the selection and pay of its CEO.

(READ MORE: TVA extends price discounts another year and foresees stable rates for the next decade)

Kilbride succeeds Memphis attorney John Ryder, whose term on the TVA board expires this year after he was elected chair a year ago following the decision last August by then-President Donald Trump to fire the two previous two chairmen of TVA. Trump removed James "Skip" Thompson of Alabama and and Richard Howorth of Mississippi from the TVA board for their support of outsourcing IT work at TVA and TVA's multi-million-dollar executive compensation plans.

Trump last year denounced the TVA board for its outsourcing contract for support staff at the Chattanooga computer center and other IT operations and for approving compensation plans for executives that Trump called "excessive. TVA reversed its decision to outsource the IT work last year and agreed to keep its staffing with TVA employees.

Ryder, a Memphis attorney who previously served as chief counsel to the Republican National Committee, agreed to restudy the CEO compensation following Trump's criticisms last year. But ultimately the board affirmed Lyash's salary and agreed to provide him a 15% raise in fiscal 2021 for meeting TVA performance targets.

TVA CEO Jeff Lyash, whose compensation last year totaled $7.3 million, is the highest paid employee of any federal agency or corporation in the country.

Ryder said TVA is a top-performing utility that must compete with investor-owned utilities for talent. Among comparable CEOs, Lyash's pay is in the bottom one fourth of all utility executives, according to TVA's compensation consultants.

(READ MORE: TVA to convert at least half of its fleet to electric vehicles by 2030)

"I wouldn't want this job going to the lowest bidder," Kilbride said.

TVA is owned by the federal government and through most of its history received federal appropriations and was run by a three-member, full-time board appointed by the president. Taxpayer funding for TVA ended three decades ago and Congress reformed TVA's governance in 2004 at the urging of then Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist. The three full-time directors were replaced by a 9-member, part-time board which hires a full-time CEO to operate the utility.

TVA directors now serve 5-year terms and are nominated by the president and confirmed by the U.S. Senate, In April, President Biden nominated four new directors for TVA, but the U.S. Senate has yet to take up the nominations.

Kilbride served as president and CEO of the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce from 2014 to 2017. Previously, he served as president of the Home Division and Chief Sustainability Officer for Mohawk Industries in Calhoun, Georgia for over 20 years.

Prior to coming to Chattanooga and transitioning into the carpet industry, Kilbride worked in financial services in New York for 20 years where he held positions in banking operations with several national banks and roles at the New York Stock Exchange. He also served as first vice president of planning for Dean Witter Financial Services.

Kilbride has also been an active civic leader in Chattanooga as a member of The Bright School Board of Trustees, a gubernatorial appointee to chair the Tennessee Arts Commission, past chairman of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Chancellor's Advisory Board, past chairman of Tennessee Wesleyan College, and a past member of the board of the Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport Authority. He has also served as a trustee of the Hunter Museum and of First Centenary United Methodist Church in Chattanooga.

Contact Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6340.

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