Why not just buy it, already?

Frank CagleFrank Talk

You might have wondered why Knox County doesn’t just buy the empty TVA tower and then lease the space to the school board, the University of Tennessee and others. It wouldn’t then be a federal building and thus no need for extraordinary security and federally approved identification for entry.


It can’t happen because TVA can’t sell the office tower. You see, the geniuses who designed the towers back in the day commingled the utilities and these conjoined twins can’t be separated. So, either TVA sells both towers to one entity or it merely leases the space in the empty tower. (Mayor Glenn Jacobs explains his support for this move here.)

There was a discussion about selling the whole complex back in 2011 and having a smaller office building constructed to house TVA headquarters. But it doesn’t appear that there is anyone in their right mind who would buy both towers and try and fill that much office space in downtown Knoxville. The east tower has been empty for a very long time. I seem to recall a fellow named Bill Haslam, who ran for mayor 16 years ago, saying he had a list of potential tenants for the tower in his pocket. He must have left the list in his pocket when his clothes went to the laundry.

In defense of the decisions made when the towers were built, no one could imagine at the time that TVA would ever have fewer employees. But that was before Carvin’ Marvin Runyon came along, the chair who reduced the TVA workforce drastically.

The design of the towers wasn’t the only far-reaching decision made decades ago. When I was a young reporter covering the disaster that was the construction and then the fire at the Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant I was told by a veteran reporter that TVA’s expansion into nuclear power was an effort to generate enough power to service the Memphis metro area, a non-Tennessee Valley entity added to TVA’s service area. Memphis is TVA’s single largest customer.

Over the years, Memphis has threatened to break away from TVA and the discussion has been back again the last couple of years. For decades TVA has been building and refurbishing nuclear plants to supply power to Memphis. If Memphis did split off it would leave a major hole in TVA’s budget and guess who would have to fill it?

Where Memphis would get its power is under discussion. An environmental group proposes the utility just develop “green” power and save millions in TVA fees. One ironic proposal comes from a group trying to buy the unfinished Bellefonte Nuclear Plant in Alabama and sign a contract to supply power to Memphis. Bellefonte is a hulking dinosaur carcass left from the ill-fated TVA decision to launch more nuclear plants than needed and thus accumulate millions in debt – debt that’s still hanging around.

The purchase of Bellefonte by political fixer Franklin Haney is in federal court. Haney contributed $1 million to President Trump’s inauguration and wants a federal loan to buy the plant. TVA doesn’t want the deal to sell the plant to go through. The prospect of a non-TVA Bellefonte supplying Memphis with power has to be concerning. It’s a shame no one covers TVA anymore. I bet there are some good stories over there in that other tower.

Woodrow Wilson, The Sequel: J.C. Napier was a black Nashville lawyer who was born into slavery. He served as State Department Clerk while getting his law degree at Howard University in Washington. Returning to Nashville, he was active in a variety of business and social causes and was a member of the Tennessee Republican Party Executive Committee. He was a close adviser of Republican President William Howard Taft, serving on his “black kitchen cabinet.” Taft appointed him as Register of the Treasury.

Napier’s signature appeared on all American currency during the years 1911-13. Then Woodrow Wilson became president. Napier resigned in protest when Wilson segregated the offices, bathrooms and lunchrooms at the Department of the Treasury, the Bureau of Printing and Engraving and the Post Office. The Civil Service began requiring photographs on all job applications in order to screen out black applicants.

Republican presidents since the Civil War had appointed blacks to the position of Register of the Treasury. Southern Democratic senators, since they had a Democrat in the White House, prevailed on Wilson not to appoint a black person to the post again because it was a position supervising Caucasian woman. Wilson agreed to nominate a white man.

Napier went back to Nashville. The city has a monument to his service to the community. While the Capitol Commission debates what statues ought to be displayed in the state Capitol, I suggest that Napier would be an ideal candidate to be memorialized in some way for his contributions to the state. There are too few black faces in the depiction of our state’s history.

What culture? I think we can all agree Geno Auriemma is pond scum. The coach of the UConn women’s basketball team has been libeling the Lady Vols since 2007, when coach Pat Summitt stopped playing its premier rival because of what Auriemma was telling the families of recruits. Now Geno is at it again, saying the culture at UT is “unhealthy.” And that “you would not want your kid in that environment.”

His comments are in connection with his efforts to get a former Tennessee player approved for a transfer to play for his team this year. Imagine Geno sitting on the couch with the father and mother of a high school girl who plays basketball. When he talks about the unhealthy culture at UT what explanation do you suppose he is giving those parents? And since he won’t spit it out publicly, but only drops hints, the issue is hard to address. All current UT coach Kellie Harper can do is work harder and the rest of us should make the point everywhere about Geno’s lack of character.

But the best thing to do is to beat UConn like a drum when they meet the Lady Vols in January.

Frank Cagle is a retired newspaperman and the former managing editor of the Knoxville News Sentinel.

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