VOL. 132 | NO. 156 | Tuesday, August 8, 2017
Collins Exiting MLGW After 10 Years
By Bill Dries
One of the most scrutinized, criticized and well paid jobs in local government is going to be open at the end of 2017.
Jerry Collins announced Friday, Aug. 4, that he will retire as president and CEO of Memphis Light, Gas and Water Division effective Dec. 19 at the end of a five-year appointed term of office.
“Working for MLGW and the city of Memphis has been a great experience; however, after 30 years of public service, it is now time for me to spend time with my family,” Collins said in a written statement. “I’d like to thank the 2,500-plus employees who I have enjoyed serving with to improve the quality of life for residents through the efficient and safe delivery of electricity, natural gas and water the last 10 years.”
Collins doubled as both head of MLGW and public works director for about five months following the resignation of Joseph Lee at the utility in 2007. Then-Mayor Willie Herenton appointed Collins as interim CEO and was Herenton’s nominee for the permanent job shortly thereafter. Collins easily won approval by the Memphis City Council for a five-year term.
His background in public works and training as a registered, professional engineer prepared him well for the detailed questions that come the way of anyone who heads the city’s publicly owned utility.
In his decade at MLGW, Collins has overseen the recovery from the third most powerful storm to hit the city – the so called Tom Lee Storm earlier this year over Memorial Day weekend. He has also overseen the utility grid’s conversion to Smart Meters and Smart Grid technology that is still underway.
Collins also weighed in on the Tennessee Valley Authority’s decision to drill water wells itself into the Memphis aquifer to provide cooling water to the new gas-fired power plant TVA being built in southwest Memphis. Collins said he would have preferred that TVA buy the water from MLGW that was pumped from existing wells.
MLGW is TVA’s largest customer.
Collins’ successor will continue the roll-out of Smart Meters and likely have a more robust discussion of the city’s water supply from the TVA controversy. Also, there is still a pending lawsuit between the city and the state of Mississippi over water rights.
MLGW’s new president and CEO will also have close ties with City Hall.
The utility is unique in American cities.
It is the largest three-service municipal utility with 421,000 customers/ratepayers. It has also been political since its inception in 1939. Privately owned utilities were opposed by political boss E.H. Crump even after MLGW was established.
The three companies within the consolidated MLGW had existed separately for about a century before its formation. The crucial step was the city’s purchase of the privately owned Memphis Power and Light in 1939.
Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland will now nominate a successor to Collins for approval by the city council.
The CEO of the utility also answers to an appointed board and oversees a budget whose financial decisions are made based on revenues from ratepayers.
Strickland praised Collins’ leadership of MLGW.
“Because of his skill, the largest publicly-owned utility in the country gives customers the best service at the lowest cost and continues to protect our most valuable resource – our drinking water,” Strickland said in a written statement.