MLGW denies severance packages to ousted execs

In a dramatic reversal, the acting president of MLGW cancelled any hopes ousted CEO Joseph Lee may have had to walk off with a pretty severance package.

This issue has been hot for years, and now, it comes full circle.

When Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton finally got Joseph Lee confirmed as president three years ago, doing away with these golden parachutes was one of his first missions.

In an ironic twist, Joseph Lee is a victim of his own ambition.

In August 2004, Joseph Lee made a staement doing away with MLGW's hefty payouts saying, "this is a public company not a private company and those are very luxurious benefits that are not seen in public institutions."

In fact, it was controversy over these severance policies that got Lee the job.

Mayor Herenton had railed on big spending and pricey deals for the utility's executives and Lee was going to change the culture.

Nearly three years later, Lee's cost saving measure is being applied to him.

"It's not possible for Memphis Light Gas And Water to pay these individuals just for having worked here," says Acting MLGW CEO Rick Masson.

The decision to deny follows flip-flopping in the wake of Lee's abrupt departure.

And it's a sharp contrast to what Acting CEO Rick Masson said Thursday afternoon about a severance for Lee.

Masson adds, "it may be somewhat of a negotiated period to make sure that we get the best value at the lowest possible price."

Masson may have reversed his tune in 24 hours but City Council Chairman Tom Marshall says his final comment is the right one.

"Good decision making has prevailed Rick Masson has done what we expect him to do and that is to make the right call in this particular effort," says Marshall.

And it means at least a little less criticism for an already embattled public utility.

Lee may not be getting a severance, but he's not walking away empty-handed.

Lee is still walking away hundreds of thousands of dollars richer from the MLGW pension plan that he bought into when he joined the company. The exact figure of what he'll get in his pension payout is unclear.

Below is the news release from MLGW:

(May 4, 2007)-Memphis Light, Gas and Water Board Chairman and Interim President and CEO Rick Masson announced this afternoon that former MLGW President Joseph Lee, III and former General Counsel Odell Horton Jr. will not be eligible for severance packages. In addition, neither Lee nor Horton is eligible for retirement under MLGW policy, so both men will receive their contributions to the MLGW pension system. Editor's note-Rick Masson is not available for interviews this afternoon.


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