Alan Clark

A couple of examples of high-salaried men who rose to the top and then thumbed their nose at “the little people” hit the news recently, proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that lots of money does not necessarily make you smart enough to deal with it.

During his six-year tenure, former Tennessee Valley Authority CEO Bill Johnson created a culture of arrogant disregard for ratepayers that manifested itself in numerous ways, including surrounding himself with luxurious business jets and enjoying the fruits of a lavish lifestyle despite the fact that many of the ratepayers providing the wherewithal to make it happen for him were living in poverty.

A subject of frequent audits by the agency’s own inspector general, Johnson, was singled out for creating what the watchdog called a “Tone at the Top.”

“The actions by some TVA executives indicate a “Tone at the Top” that could send a message to TVA employees that management is not committed to the TVA code of conduct and complying with existing policies and procedures,” the latest audit states.

This is as a result of TVA executives overspending on travel from October 2018 until July.

As you know, Bill Johnson is long gone now, departing TVA in April just before new CEO Jeff Lyash took over, moving on to California and another multi-million dollar salary with the utility out there (a private one) PG and E, called a “troubled” utility by many.

Guess what? They have real trouble coming to them now by the name of Bill Johnson.

Former Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett, elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2018, weighed in recently on the magnitude of Johnson’s retirement package, totaling $12.8 million.

“That is the picture of the arrogancy of the TVA. The hardworking people at the TVA get a slap in the face when they see that kind of thing,” he said. “That’s why they need to have those meetings open.

“Now (Johnson) is starting that new job in California, and it just blows my mind. That’s the kind of things you deal with in Washington … People say, ‘It’s just $12 million’ … that could almost build a school in Knox County.

“Good for Bill or his lawyer for negotiating a great deal, but they are completely out of touch with what’s going on, and it’s indicative of the problems we see in these bloated, federal bureaucracies, and it needs to stop.”

Then there is the case of former Erlanger Hospital CEO Kevin Spiegel.

After a similar six-year term, and with an annual salary granted by the trustees of the hospital approaching $1 million a year, (actually $964,000), Spiegel is now out as CEO as of Sept. 13.

He led the health system, which lost nearly $32 million from 2011 to 2013, out of financial turmoil.

Highlights of his tenure include a 92 percent increase in net patient revenue, dramatic market-share growth and improved bond ratings.

Those achievements, combined with new philanthropic initiatives, allowed Erlanger to take on major capital projects, including Erlanger East Hospital, a $100 million electronic health record system, and a new children’s outpatient center — the first phase of a new children’s hospital and 14-story medical tower.

In the process, Erlanger became the largest employer in Chattanooga and the fastest-growing health care organization in Tennessee.

Spiegel has acknowledged that his management style is one of “disruptive innovation,” which created contract disputes with physician groups, such as cardiology, radiology, and neonatology, as well as the University of Tennessee College of Medicine.

When you are the CEO of a major hospital, you need to get along with doctors and specialists.

He butted heads with politicians after working to get Erlanger a $19 million payment from the federal government.

State and Hamilton County officials used the words “disappointed,” “stunned” and “troubled” to describe their reactions to learning that the money would count toward Erlanger’s bottom line, triggering executive bonuses — including a $234,669 performance incentive for Spiegel — months after the hospital was in danger of ending the year in the red.

This did not go over well with rank and file employees, however.

In May, a letter from the Medical Executive Committee — a group of top physicians who oversee the quality and safety of medical care at Erlanger — was sent to Griffin and later obtained by the Chattanooga Times Free Press.

The letter detailed concerns over chronic operational issues, including inefficiency, understaffing, poor morale and policies that cause overcrowding in the main campus emergency department and operating rooms.

As a result, the committee voted unanimously for “no confidence in the structure of the current executive leadership to ensure quality and safety of patient care.”

“Despite over three years of complaints and concerns by patients and physicians, hospital management has been ineffective in addressing these issues.

“There exists a lack of accountability in senior management who are either unable or unwilling to effect necessary changes to ensure patient safety,” that letter states.

Like I said, when you are the CEO of a major hospital, it pays to get along with doctors and employees, proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that thumbing your nose at the little people and creating a culture or Tone at the Top of arrogance only proves that lots of cash does not automatically make you smart.

Alan Clark’s award-winning editorials are available as podcasts on Apple Music.