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Attorney asks senators, congressmen to get involved in JCPB battle over documents

June 6th, 2014 4:26 pm by Gary B. Gray

Attorney asks senators, congressmen to get involved in JCPB battle over documents

Jerome Cochran, attorney representing JCPB ratepayers in inquiry (Lee Talbert/Johnson City Press)

Attorney Jerome Cochran, on behalf of a group of Johnson City Power Board ratepayers, has written letters to Tennessee’s U.S. senators and the District 1 U.S. House representative in hopes the $4,000 the utility is asking for documents regarding donations might raise an eyebrow.

Letters to Republican Senators Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker, as well as U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, were sent May 29. The attorney explains the recent $500,000 JCPB pledge to East Tennessee State University to support construction of a new $38 million performing arts center.

Cochran informs them about the request made for the utility to provide a list of all donations made since 2010, and that his clients consider the $4,000 price tag to be out of line. He also explains that the ratepayers believe the gift is a violation of Tennessee Valley Authority policies with regard to corporate contributions and the guidelines for which revenue can be used.

Cochran asks the federal officials to help obtain the information so that the group of ratepayers can avoid paying the retrieval fee, as well as potentially costly legal action in order to obtain the information.

“I basically just want to let them know what’s going on, and my clients asked me to do this,” he said Thursday. “(His clients) have no expectations that Senators Alexander and Corker or Mr. Roe will directly intercede. But my clients are hoping this will at least get their attention.”

The communique includes the letter, copies of communication between Cochran and the utility, letters from the TVA, copies of the requests and copies of Johnson City Press articles related to the request.

In March, the group of ratepayers engaged Cochran, asking that he inquire about the Power Board’s donation. The attorney said in April that JCPB did respond to 10 of the 11 questions listed and the answers given did not raise any red flags, at least not to him personally. However, he said he was preparing to dispute the utility’s monetary request.

In late October, the utility’s board of directors voted unanimously to approve a recommendation from JCPB CEO Jeff Dykes to commit the $500,000 from its underground/economic development fund. Dykes said the donation would help drive economic development in the region and told city commissioners after the announcement that the money would go toward the purchase and installation of energy systems at the new center.

JCPB attorney Tom McKee has said the utility treats everyone the same, and this particular information on contributions involves several departments and several employees.

JCPB Chief Financial Officer Brent Kitzmiller estimated the cost.

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