Memphis City Council members wasted little time this week in plotting the direction of the city’s utility company by overwhelmingly voting to confirm Memphis COO Doug McGowen as the new president and CEO of MLGW.
In a related move, the council on Tuesday (Nov. 1) unanimously approved Mayor Jim Strickland’s nomination of Chandell Ryan as the city’s new COO. Ryan is an 18-year veteran of local government, most recently as deputy COO. She is the first woman to hold the job.
Regarding McGowen, the vote was 12-1 with council Chairman Martavius Jones casting the only no vote. Jones wanted Jim Strickland to conduct a national search to replace J.T. Young as head of the city-owned utility company.
Early in the council’s Government and Intergovernmental Affairs Committee meeting, where McGowen’s nomination was deliberated, it was apparent that other council members did not agree with Jones.
Introduced by Strickland at the beginning of the committee meeting, McGowen’s appointment comes amid upcoming fateful decisions regarding MLGW’s future, chief of which is a scheduled vote by the utility’s board of directors on whether to keep the Tennessee Valley Authority as MLGW’s electric energy supplier. Young had recommended that the utility stay with the federally-owned TVA.
The board is scheduled to vote Nov. 16 on a recommendation to sign a long-term contract with the TVA.
During the council’s committee meeting, council members obliged Strickland’s request for same-night minutes to prevent the need for later votes.
“First, the largest decision for MLGW in our lifetime is the power supply RFP. Doug completely understands the issues. He co-chaired the integrated resource plan, which was the step right before the RFP. He’s been in meeting after meeting about this issue,” said Strickland. “I’ve heard him speak many times in public or in private about this issue. He understands it.”
“The most important decision we’ll make as a community is where we’ll get our power from for the next 50 years. I think there’s no one who’s got a better idea about what those issues are and can lead us to make a good decision than Mr. McGowen,” said council member Jeff Warren.
Other work needs to be done, including implementing a broadband plan and installing LED streetlights. McGowen also faces nagging issues like annual ice and wind-storm-related outages, power lines that routinely need to be cleared of branches and customer service issues.
Jones, wanting to hold the mayor to the standard he set during previous hirings, such as the current police Chief CJ Davis and her predecessor, Michael Rallings, did not back away from his insistence for a national search.
“It’s going to be for that reason that I’m going to object to it and if this goes through, like with the police director, I’ll be the sole no vote. But I’ll work with her and continue to do all that I can to make her successful and I’ll do that with Mr. McGowen…,” said Jones. “If Mr. McGowen were the best person for the job, he would still emerge out of a national search.”
Jones previously sponsored a resolution calling for a national search during the Tuesday, Oct. 11 meeting of the committee. It passed 5-0. Several members opted to keep their powder dry and abstained.
“When we voted on doing a national search, I abstained. I might as well just put it out in the atmosphere. Everyone knows I was interested in that position, but it had nothing to do with Doug McGowen and who he is.
“He has worked well with me, my district and any of the initiatives that I have talked to him about,” said council member Patrice Robinson, who until her retirement, was an MLGW supervisor for Assessment and Development.
McGowen is a retired navy veteran and former commanding officer of Naval Support Activity Midsouth in Millington. McGowen was given every opportunity to diversify his resume during his stint in the Strickland administration.
In addition to day-to-day operations, he also oversaw the repairs and improvements conducted on Memphis’ sewer system, which he considers a utility. It had been plagued with broken and clogged pipes for decades. He also holds a degree in civil engineering.
McGowen also has overseen the implementation of Memphis 3.0, which is a comprehensive plan to revitalize underserved communities through infrastructure improvements.
He also led the Mayor’s Innovation Delivery Team. The nonprofit seeks innovative solutions for community improvement that the mayor prioritizes. He also plans to remain a member of the mayor’s cabinet.
“I think I’m uniquely qualified to ensure that our utility division does more than just deliver day-to-day services, and that is critically important. But it has to power growth where we want it.
“It has to power an economy that will drive, not only collective, but individual prosperity,” said McGowen.
McGowen also drew the support of the Memphis business community.
“Doug McGowen has done an incredible job at the city of Memphis, where he has set high standards and earned a reputation for getting things done.
“Our business community looks forward to working with him and MLGW to find new and innovative ways to grow Memphis,” said Beverly Robertson, president and CEO of the Greater Memphis Chamber.