You know how it feels when something you’re trying to say is captured so perfectly by someone else?
Occasionally, you fall short of expressing a point or a feeling or recalling a memory, and then BAM! Out of nowhere, another person succinctly summarizes your point.
Such was the case when I read an opinion column published recently in The Tennessean concerning the new CEO of the Tennessee Valley Authority, Jeff Lyash, after being selected by the Board of Directors to replace Bill Johnson, who retired from the nation’s largest and oldest public utility only to be picked up again by Pacific Gas and Electric in California for his third straight million-dollar leadership role in the utility business.
I don’t begrudge Johnson’s lucky streak — it’s his attitude that gets under my skin.
He looks down his nose at ratepayers and plain folk while streaking around his territory in million-dollar business jets and helicopters, the public be damned.
So, when I read the piece by the editors at the USA Network in Tennessee, I had to share it with you. It’s all about being the leader that Johnson was not, and it goes like this:
“Welcome to Tennessee, Mr. Lyash.
“No doubt you had a busy first week as the new CEO of the Tennessee Valley Authority.
“And what a responsibility!
“You lead the nation’s first and largest regional planning and economic development agency owned and operated by the federal government.
“You provide power for some 10 million people, and you employ thousands in our state. You’ve taken over an organization whose history and legacy are revolutionary and inspiring. Few organizations have transformed the lives of so many people, across so many generations. And we know you believe deeply in this mission, a mission derived from decades of service to improving the lives of the people of the Tennessee Valley.
“This is what has brought you to Knoxville.
“Which is why today we challenge you to be the leader your predecessor was not.
“• We challenge you to launch a fully independent and transparent investigation of safety and workplace practices that occurred in the aftermath of the massive Kingston coal ash spill and cleanup — not just the TVA’s own practices, but those of every one of the contractors and subcontractors it employs. We’ve reported extensively about the workers who have died, and the hundreds of others who are sick, after their exposure to the toxic ash. Learn from the mistakes of the past and demand accountability.
“• We challenge you to commit to a top-to-bottom review and overhaul of workplace safety at every power plant you operate. Last week we reported about workers at two Tennessee plants who are exposed to fly ash dust and flue gas without masks or respirators.
“• We challenge you to review your relationship with Jacobs Engineering. Although the case goes on, a federal jury already found Jacobs breached its contract with the TVA and its duty to ensure the health of cleanup workers. Yet you’re still doing hundreds of millions of dollars of business with the company.
“• We challenge you to hire an independent consultant to radically remake your internal reporting and whistle-blowing procedures and make sure they are accessible to your contractors as well. Your people are adamant no one should fear workplace retaliation, yet your workers are coming to us because they don’t trust TVA.
“• We challenge you to rid the agency of double-speak and misdirection — where it’s culturally acceptable to mislead the public, as Bill Johnson did when he said that the EPA, the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation and OSHA were on site daily during the Kingston cleanup. Today at the TVA it’s acceptable for your official spokesman to recraft this as mere hyperbole.
“• Finally, we challenge you to visit your employees in the field. Talk to them. Not with an entourage, not with a phalanx of handlers who will hand-select the ones who’ll say the “right” things to you. You need to hear the truth. You need to visit sick men in hospitals and listen to their stories. You need to sit down in the lunchroom with truck drivers who are around fly ash all day. You need to walk through the plant, see things yourself.
“And then you need to do the right thing.”
To that, I can only add, “Because that’s the way it oughtta be.”
Read Alan Clark’s columns in Volume One of “You Oughtta Know: 2017-2018,” published by Lakeway Publishers, Inc. His comments are available as podcasts on iTunes and on his website at alclarkvoice.com.