by James Coleman —
The Memphis City Council approved (12-0) a resolution awarding a contract to energy consultant GDS Associates, Inc. during its Tuesday (April 6) meeting.
The vote sets the table for an early 2022 decision by Memphis Light, Gas and Water (MLGW) commissioners on whether to continue MLGW’s long-standing relationship with the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA).
With the $520,000 contract, the Georgia-based firm will take over the bidding process for the city’s energy supply and infrastructure projects, including local power generation. It includes provisions to give council members insight into the bidding process. They also will be briefed on bids before recommendations are given.
The measure was approved by the MLGW Board of Commissioners during a March 31 special meeting.
A similar proposed contract with GDS failed to gain council support in October. Doubts persisted among the body about whether the firm could be neutral in the RFP (request for proposal) process. A “request for proposal” is a set of recommendations concerning rates, prices and dependability.
Voting in favor were Chairman Frank Colvett Jr., Rhonda Logan, Patrice J. Robinson, Jamita Swearengen, Worth Morgan, Edmund Ford Sr., Michalyn Easter-Thomas, JB Smiley Jr., Martavius Jones, Chase Carlisle, J. Ford Canale and Jeff Warren.
Councilmember Cheyenne Johnson abstained from the executive session vote. During the MLGW committee meeting she asked that the item be pulled, pointing out that she had requested that it be pulled the previous day. The resolution replaced one Johnson had introduced earlier.
Johnson advocates local power generation to leverage against market rates from a consortium or deregulated outfit.
“I object. I can’t see how my resolution included Memphis Light, Gas and Water in any shape, form or fashion,” said Johnson. “I object to that item being added without proper notification being given to the general public.”
The item had been posted on the agenda since March 31, beating the April 1 deadline for posting items. Johnson maintained she couldn’t find it on the document. Council staff presented a PowerPoint document with arrows pointed to the item on the agenda.
“I am sure the public is confused. Again, I ask that the item be removed due to that fact that it was not properly given notification,” said Johnson.
She then said the two items – hers and the utility’s – were blended.
“They are not blended,” Robinson responded, “according to what we are looking at …”
Councilman Carlisle objected, referencing a March 31 meeting where the utility approved a contract to GDS.
“That special meeting was called at the direct request of this body at our last council meeting as we were having a conversation about whether council should take the lead or we hold our legislative request and allow the board of commissioners to meet and send back what they would like to do,” said Carlisle.
He was joined by Morgan, who recalled the meeting as well as proper public notification of it.
“A number of councillors were in attendance. All the notification was given,” Morgan said. “If Councilwoman Johnson doesn’t want to be affiliated with the resolution anymore, I feel like just have her removed as a sponsor.”
The objection fell short on a 2-7 vote. Only Johnson and Swearengen were on board. Colvett, Robinson, Jones, Warren, Canale, Morgan and Carlisle voted against pulling the item; Ford, Logan, Smiley and Easter-Thomas abstained.