Recent editorials from Tennessee newspapers:


Aug. 18

The Kingsport Times-News on President Donald Trump and the Tennessee Valley Authority:

It’s said that what happens in an election year is because it’s an election year. Witness President Trump firing the chairman and one other board member of the Tennessee Valley Authority over its use of foreign workers.

TVA is among dozens of federally owned corporations created by Congress that operate like private corporations with chief executive officers reporting to boards of directors. The difference is that the boards serve at the president’s pleasure. In making a political point about American jobs going to American workers, the president was within his authority to remove TVA Chairman Skip Thompson.

But it was not within his authority, nor was it appropriate, for President Trump to make demands upon the board to fire TVA’s chief executive officer, much less for the president to set an artificial salary ceiling for that position.

In dismissing Thompson, the president said TVA was replacing many of its in-house technology workers with contractors who rely heavily on foreign workers under the H1-B visa program for highly skilled workers. Trump acknowledged that he was made aware of the issue after seeing a television ad produced by U.S. Tech Workers, a nonprofit that wants to limit visas given to foreign technology workers, that aired in prime time on Fox News.

The group, led by Kevin Lynn, accused the TVA of furloughing its own workers and replacing them with contractors using foreign workers with H-1B visas. True or not, outsourcing tech services to contractors has become as commonplace as the sun rising in the east. It would be a safe bet that the same has happened not only within other federally owned corporations, but in other government sectors.

The ad, Lynn said, had an “audience of one,” aiming to persuade Trump to stop the TVA from outsourcing much of its information technology division.

All well and good if that work can be replaced by American workers without raising costs, which in turn could affect TVA’s rates, which are lower than 70% of the country. But if that were the case, a responsible organization such as TVA would have already done so.

But President Trump also acted on a criticism he first made in April, that TVA CEO Jeff Lyash, hired in February last year, is overpaid. “It’s ridiculous” the president said of Lyash’s $8 million 2019 compensation package.

In point of fact, Lyash’s compensation in running the seventh-largest power company in the country is in the bottom 25% of his peers. The average compensation two years ago was $11 million.

Whether a CEO’s compensation is justified is up to the board, which in private corporations answers to the company’s owners, the stockholders. TVA’s stockholders are the American public, which should be asking the same question as directors: Will this person bring in a profit for the business and its shareholders?

Lyash had continued TVA’s remarkable success in meeting competition by cutting operating costs by nearly $950 million, reducing work force by more than half, increasing the generating capacity of its plants, and developing a plan to meet the energy needs of its customers through this year 2020, while servicing 80,000 square miles of customer base within seven states.

For federally owned corporations like TVA, as well as the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, Federal Home Loan Banks, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Amtrak and others, the board also serves as a buffer between management of the corporations and their top executives, and the president, to prevent political interference.

“When this crisis is over, I’ll be glad to explain to them the facts about the TVA CEO’s pay, which is lower than other big utilities, and TVA’s rates, which are among the lowest in the country, and the number of federal taxpayer dollars going to TVA, which is zero,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander.

Lyash’s future is entirely up to the TVA board, not the president. What’s “ridiculous” is the president’s suggested $500,000 top salary for the job. President Trump knows better and, heaven knows, this country has bigger issues that need his undivided attention.



Aug. 17

The Cookeville Herald-Citizen on local newspapers:

What would Cookeville be without a newspaper? If you haven’t asked yourself that question, perhaps it is time to consider just what this newspaper means to the community.

Too many small towns and mid-sized cities are losing their newspapers. A study released in January found that by last year, 2,100 newspapers had disappeared, or almost 25% of the 9,000 newspapers published in 2004. That translates to 1,800 communities that 15 years ago had newspapers that now have no original local reporting. And that was before the pandemic.

What does a community lose when it loses its newspapers?

The most obvious is the community’s access to news about itself: The workings of its town hall; information about taxes and property values; the operation of schools for its children; the achievements, or the criminal activities, of local residents; the scores of local ball teams; and the offerings of local small businesses.

During this pandemic and in spite of their deep financial troubles, newspapers continue to provide local news and information about COVID-19 — from testing spots to restrictions and openings to dining options — unavailable from any other source.

But the less-obvious losses when a newspaper disappears may be the most devastating to a community.

Researchers in 2018 found that when a local newspaper closes, municipal borrowing costs — and therefore residents’ taxes — go up. Why? Losing a paper, the study said, creates a “local information vacuum.” Lenders depend on local reporting to judge the value of government projects — and the officials in charge of them. Without that information, lenders tend to charge higher rates.

Communities without newspapers are also more likely to be victims of corruption, local incidents the national media will never uncover. The most glaring example comes from the small city of Bell, California, where — without the eyes of a local newspaper on them — the city council engineered passage of a virtually unnoticed referendum to get around a new state law capping council member salaries. Within five years, council members were taking home $100,000, the police chief was being paid $450,000 — and the city manager of this municipality of just 37,000 people was making nearly $800,000.

We don’t expect something like that to happen here, but we are here to make sure if it does, you know about it.

Losing a local newspaper, another study found, can also lead to more political polarization — something nobody needs now.

Fortunately, there are steps you can take to avoid becoming another “news desert.” For one thing — subscribe.

Second, advertise. We specialize in helping small businesses get the word out about what they offer.

Third, ask our legislators in Washington to support the Local Journalism Sustainability Act. Their contact information follows this editorial.

The Local Journalism Sustainability Act (H.R. 7640) provides for tax credits that support the three pillars of trusted, fair and accurate journalism: people who subscribe to newspapers or other local media; businesses that advertise in local newspapers; and newspapers that staff their newsrooms with journalists who cover the community. The tax credits aren’t permanent and sunset after five years.

Your right to fair and trusted local news and information is worth the effort.


Aug. 15

The Johnson City Press on a bill aimed at penalizing protester tactics more harshly:

Our hypocritical state legislators proved once again how little they care about their constituents and how skilled they are at wasting time when they passed a bill this week aimed at intimidating the protesters who have gathered outside the Tennessee Capitol for the last two months.

Meeting in special session, the General Assembly members agreed to make illegal camping on public property a felony offense and toughen penalties for interrupting meetings and blocking streets. They also required those charged with the protest-related offenses to be held in jail without bond for at least 12 hours and created a reporting requirement to shame state district attorneys for declining to prosecute the cases.

Lawmakers backing the bill couched it as a safety measure to protect property and police. When pressed, they couldn’t point to a single physical injury resulting from the Capitol Hill protests, but it appeared some of them had suffered tragically from acute cases of hurt feelings.

“The thing is, what I wish I could convey to people is that it’s really hard to be sympathetic to what someone is saying when they are yelling at you, when they’re trying to shame you, when they’re calling you names and so forth,” Sen. Kerry Roberts, R-Springfield, said during discussions of the legislation.

We don’t want to draw the ire of the legislature for name-calling — although outgoing Rep. Micah Van Huss did take a few pot shots at the press with his “fake news” resolution earlier this year — but Roberts’ reasoning is childish.

Using the legislative power of the state to threaten imprisonment and the removal of voting and firearms ownership rights because you were called a naughty name is miles beyond an overreaction.

Hasn’t he heard that “Sticks and stones may break your bones, but words will never hurt you?”

Sen. Roberts wasn’t serving in Nashville 20 years ago, but he may remember when conservative anti-income tax protesters advanced on the Capitol and threw actual stones. One of them smashed Gov. Don Sundquist’s office window.

Lawmakers didn’t make vandalism or trespassing felonies then, and they shouldn’t now.

Those are already crimes, and the protesters camped out in Nashville have been repeatedly arrested for them.

Since the current means aren’t solving the problem, it’s time for a new approach, but upping the stakes will only make matters worse. It’s time to try listening to what the protesters have to say.

For months, they’ve been asking for a meeting with Gov. Bill Lee and for meaningful law enforcement reforms.

Lee has so far ignored those requests, and the legislature decided to further criminalize protesting instead of trying to address protesters’ concerns.

We hope some of the new representatives we’ve sent to Nashville will be voices of reason and harmony to solve this conflict instead of fanning the flames.