Thursday, July 19, 2007

Flyer Coverage Wired For Facts

We’re hard-pressed to think of any recent enterprise reporting that’s more impressive than Memphis Flyer reporter Chris Davis’s coverage of Memphis Light, Gas & Water’s troubled investment in Networx.

Methodically, he has connected dot after dot until the entire the Byzantine story is coming into focus, a story of interconnected people, conflicts of interests and conflicting loyalties to the public utility and the private company.

In a prize-worthy series of stories, Mr. Davis has built the story brick by brick in a way that pays tribute to the role that the alternative press can play in a city like ours, where the daily newspaper continues to decimate its reporting staff and seems intent on jettisoning the institutional memory of the old-timers.

That he has been given free rein to spend the time to mine the records and connect the dots speaks volumes on the quality of editorial direction at the weekly and should inspire our daily to do more.

But back to Networx, since Mr. Davis seems to own this story, we hope he’ll explain to us the sense of urgency about this sale and why it has to be made right now.

As his coverage points out, there are many questions remaining to be answered if the public is to have any confidence about the recommendations for the sale of MLGW’s stake in the troubled company.

We’re also hoping that he will also ask if anybody at MLGW has thought about the utility turning its share over to City of Memphis. Who knows? Perhaps, the Networx backbone can serve a public purpose that could actually establish Memphis as an innovator.

Some cities are already using fiber optics so that utility customers can go online at any time and see their usage. Others use it to track citizen complaints, identify trouble spots and keep real time reports on potholes, road repairs and more. In this way, every morning, the mayor and his administration – and miracle of all miracles, the public – can go online and see exactly how their tax dollars are being used.

10 comments:

Chris Davis said...

I can answer both of those questions.

Why now? Because Networx only has enough operating capital for a month or so, and debts are coming due.

Of course there could have been other options, but--as explained in this week's issue-- they would have been risky.

Any talk of turning Networx over to the City: Yes and No. MLGW's board entertained a motion (prior to the vote to sell Networx) to turn Networx over to the City.

It was met with some derision from council members who said MLGW was passing the buck on a difficult decision. The motion--which did seem more like a political manuver than anything else--died.

I think I've addressed all of this previously. Maybe some of it needs revisiting.

Chris Davis said...

Oh, and thanks.

city watch said...

OK. Networx has operating capital for a month and payment on the $7 million loan(?) is due. But why sell a civic asset? We have operating losses on our highways, which do not have fees for support. What's wrong with a careful study of the future benefit of the 100 mile fiber optic highway? Since Networx is producing a small profit (before or after debt service has not been revealed?),surely we can keep it afloat for a while to see if our $28 million investment is worth further investment.

Where are the city's lawyers? Where are the experts? Where are our leaders? Why is Chris Davis the only person to dig for answers?

Can this fiber optic network be the backbone for wireless hotspots around the City of Memphis? Will somebody please answer this?

Smart City Consulting said...

Chris:

With the value so low, what's the real risk to MLGW in letting the company collapse? Is there any potential for picking up the pieces and using them for a public purpose?

Rather than pass the buck, is there a scenario where the city can take possession of a potential asset? Clearly, we know just enough to be dangerous, and you are the fount of knowledge on this.

And thanks for a great job of reporting. We'd almost forgotten what it looks like from reading our daily.

Smart City Consulting said...

City watch: Great questions, as usual. If Chris can do this with the support of an alternative weekly, where are the folks with teams of reporters and the deep pockets? Chasing snakes and conflict, we presume.

Sherman said...

If ever there was an issue for Smart City to get behind, this would be the one. This sale seems like one of the most short-sighted decisions in this city's history, and that is saying a mouthful.

Where is the mayor on this travesty? Isn't this the kind of thing a visionary mayor would be all over?

I don't have enough info. on what Networx actually does or has the capability to provide, but I suspect that within 5 years, Memphians will be paying through the teeth for services provided by something we currently own and are unloading for chump change, which makes us the chumps unfortunately.

Anonymous said...

When did the bad decisions begin? Was it a mistake to get into this deal to begin with? Or, Was that the only innovative point in the whole deal? New to Memphis.

Mike said...

Why do people assume there is anything of value there?
Why do people want the utility or City to throw more good money after bad?

Isn't this the kind of thinking that keeps us in Iraq?

What's more MLGW doesn't have a controlling interest in Networx. It forfeited that a couple years ago, as I recall. If it hung onto its current interest, it would still be a minority shareholder after the sale. Maybe worse.

The train has come and gone.

The real question is was there fraud.

PeskyFly said...

Mike, I think you're right about the real question, wrong about all the rest. There there is value-- that's not even a question.

*** said...

As with other Memphis-based ISP companies, all of the Networx hoopla makes me wonder one thing: where was their sales force in all of this, and with the backing, how could they have squandered this opportunity when other Memphis ISP companies ARE making it work, for example, WorldSpice?