A federal judge has ordered the Tennessee Valley Authority to release salary and compensation information for the agency’s four regional vice presidents, who include Mark Yates of Memphis.
The judge ruled in favor of Memphis journalist Marc Perrusquia, who sued TVA a year ago to release the information via the Freedom of Information Act. Perrusquia’s lawsuit claimed that TVA wrongfully withheld the records in violation of federal law. TVA is a federal agency.
TVA officials claimed that disclosing the salary information would violate the privacy of the individuals involved. U.S. Dist. Judge Ronnie Greer disagreed and said the public interest in knowing how TVA spends money outweighs any privacy concerns.
TVA “provides power to 153 local power companies, including the Memphis Light, Gas and Water Board, which then distribute that power to retail customers,” Judge Greer said in an order entered Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Knoxville. “Said retail customers, the public, have an interest in information related to the reliability and affordability of their public utilities.”
The lawsuit was filed by Paul McAdoo, an attorney for the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, on behalf of Perrusquia, director of the Institute for Public Service Reporting at the University of Memphis.
“This is a major victory for the public and for freedom of information,” Perrusquia said. “The public has a right to know how much the federal government pays its executives. This is no less true for TVA, whose dams and infrastructure were built with millions and millions and millions of taxpayer dollars, and is often the focus of critics who contend it overspends, resulting in higher electric rates.”
TVA spokesman Scott Brooks said the agency “is still evaluating the Court’s opinion and cannot comment further at this time.”
Perrusquia requested the salary information in January 2022, not long after TVA hired Yates, a longtime Memphis businessman and political operative. The federal agency subsequently created three additional regional vice presidencies across its seven-state service area. Yates was hired as TVA’s Memphis-based vice president as city officials were discussing whether MLGW should replace TVA as its exclusive source of electricity, a $1 billion-a-year enterprise.
After Yates was hired, Perrusquia reported that some thought his TVA role might pose a conflict of interest. Yates’ wife, Veronica, was listed as a business partner with Carlee McCullough, then one of five members of MLGW’s board of commissioners. McCullough, a local attorney, and Veronica Yates were listed as proprietors of Mahogany Memphis, a popular Midtown eatery. McCullough has since left the MLGW board.
In his order, Judge Greer said TVA will be allowed to redact the names of the four regional vice presidents, “or other similar identifying information from the provided documents, since this is private information that reveals little about Defendant’s conduct as a corporate agency of the federal government.”
Perrusquia said he’s disappointed by that part of the judge’s order. “Ideally, both the names and salaries of government employees should be known in order for the public to fairly evaluate how its government spends money,” Perrusquia said.