Joseph Lee tries to quit top post at MLGW, but Mayor refuses to accept

Joseph Lee talks to reporters outside Federal Court Tuesday
Joseph Lee talks to reporters outside Federal Court Tuesday

MLGW President and CEO Joseph Lee attemped to resign his post this morning, but according to Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton - who appeared at a board meeting at the utility's headquarters - that resignation was not accepted.

Lee's "attempted" resignation comes amid increased pressure during the past several days and revelations that a City Councilman chairing a committee with direct budget oversight of the utility was allowed to default on years of utility payments.

Late this afternoon, the MLGW governing board passed a resolution indicating a concern over public confidence in Joseph Lee.

On Tuesday, after testifying to a federal grand jury investigating the burgeoning scandal involving Councilman Edmund Ford, Joseph Lee told reporters that the decision to allow Ford's payments to go unpaid happened under his watch, that he accepts full responsibility and that he's "sorry."

On Wednesday, Councilman Myron Lowery called for Lee to resign as a result of growing public mistrust and anger over years of utility rate increases.

Calling recent media reports a "witch hunt" and specifically blaming Lowery and Councilwoman Carol Chumney for inciting media interest, Herenton told board members he is reserving judgment about Lee's resignation pending the outcome of a Council investigation.

City Council Chairman Tom Marshall met with the independent attorneys hired by the Council this week.  He says they will attempt to produce an independent report on the findings by March 20th, but will meet with the Council to document their strategy on Tuesday.

Herenton told MLGW board members he appointed Joseph Lee in 2004 to change the culture at MLGW.  He cited what he views as substantial management problems there preceding Lee's appointment, including golden parachutes for executives and he says that Lee has "cleaned that up."  He also pointed to the utility's bond rating and a recent favorable performance review from the board itself.

Herenton also told the board that he will ask the Council for $5 million next week to help Memphians with needs - particularly seniors - with their utility bills.

He said he wants MLGW's leadership to focus on "excessive and arbitrary" billing instead of recent scandals.

We'll have the very latest on this story right here at WMCTV.COM.