The combination of the initials "M-L-G-W" and the word "list" cues memories of Joseph Lee, the so-called VIP roster, and the end of Lee's tenure in charge of the city's utility company.
Memphis Light, Gas and Water released a new list last week. This one includes the names of 30 employees who might be in violation of the city's residency law. That ordinance, enacted in 2005, states that newly hired employees who live outside the city limits have six months to establish a city residence or face termination.
Serious enforcement of the policy at MLGW began after an internal audit last month exposed Armstead Ward, vice president of human resources, as a violator of the ordinance. Ward will step down September 5th.
"The primary reason that employee residency matters is that it's the law," Gale Jones Carson, MLGW director of corporate communications, explains. "It really doesn't matter whether people agree with the ordinance; until it changes, MLGW and city employees are duty-bound to obey it."
Richard Thompson, editor of the Mediaverse blog and an MLGW communications specialist, is on the list. MLGW hired Thompson in October 2007. According to a June 19th Mediaverse post, Thompson provided MLGW with his address (which sits north of Shelby Drive between Riverdale and Hacks Cross, just outside the city limits) at the time of his hiring, and agreed to comply with the residency code.
Thompson's start date, however, coincided with the real estate bust that crippled the national housing market. Thompson declined to put his house on the market. Though his house will go on sale in July, that may not be enough to save his job. Carson explains that MLGW president Jerry Collins will review each case individually. "I don't know what the determining factor will be," Carson says. "I do know that he's getting input from the board, and he'll make a decision [about their employment status]."
Carson speculates that the recent City Council residency discussions for Memphis police officers set a bad precedent for MLGW workers. "I think we're going to have difficulty getting an exception made for MLGW employees, because there's such difficulty to get an exception for police officers who work for the city," she says.
Still, the responsibility rests with the employee. "They should think seriously before taking the job if they can't comply with the residency requirement within six months," Carson says. "People are not buying and selling houses in this economy."