No move from Marvin 

Postmaster "not interested" in mayor's job

Postmaster "not interested" in mayor's job

U.S. Postmaster General Marvin Runyon announced last week that he will retire from the agency and return to Nashville, sparking fresh speculation that he might make a mayoral bid next year.

But Runyon says he’s not interested in Nashville’s top job, adding that it’s not in his ”makeup“ to run for public office.

Runyon says there’s been speculation about his running for office ”for about 10 years.“ But he insists he doesn’t know ”why people keep doing that. The answer I give every time is that it’s not in my work plan. I do not run for elected office.“

Runyon, 73, has spent the past 10 years working in federal government, first as former President Ronald Reagan’s appointee as chairman of the Tennessee Valley Authority and, since 1992, as postmaster general.

Job security

Even in the face of criticism from Mayor Phil Bredesen, one of Metro’s most controversial boards is apparently trying to feather the nest of its top staffer.

Bredesen recently told the Scene that he is frustrated with the way the Metro Employee Benefit Board operates and that he would like to use a public referendum to eliminate it altogether. Barring that development, Bredesen said, he’d at least like to change the way some of the board’s members are appointed. The Metro Charter now calls for the mayor to appoint five of the board’s 10 members; various Metro employee groups appoint the other five.

Historically, according to the mayor, most of the board’s decisions have come down in favor of the employees, who must get the board’s approval for disability pensions and other local government benefits. Bredesen suggests that there has been egregious abuse of power, alleging that the board may be approving disability benefits for workers who are not entitled to them.

In the wake of those comments, the Benefit Board called a special meeting this week. On the agenda was a proposal to extend the contract of its top staffer, executive secretary Jim Luther. The proposed extension would be for three years, even though Luther still has a year left on his current contract. Discussion of the contract extension was deferred for two weeks because only six of 10 board members were present at the meeting.

Benefit Board chairman Leighton Bush says the proposal was his idea and had nothing to do with Bredesen’s recent criticisms. Bush says board members want to offer Luther increased job security and want, in turn, the assurance that Luther has a long-term commitment to the board. ”I brought this up because I didn’t want Jim to have to worry about going out and finding a job,“ Bush says.

”We’ve got a lot of things we’re working on,“ the board chairman says, adding that the board doesn’t want to ”wait until the last minute“ to renew Luther’s contract. Bush says he’s talked to board members about the extension, adding that ”eight or nine of them are for it.“

Both Bredesen and Metro Council have frowned upon such long-term contracts in Metro government. The mayor has said in the past that he’d like contracts to come to term before boards extend them. Meanwhile, Metro Council has shot down similar proposals presented for Council’s ratification. Several years ago, in fact, Council rejected a long-term contract for Luther, agreeing to offer him a shorter-term deal instead. Some members say Council is likely to do the same in this case if the Benefit Board approves the extension proposal.

It doesn’t help the board’s case that Luther is a controversial figure, notorious for poor skills in dealing with people. Friends and colleagues say Luther is quite capable at nuts-and-bolts matters, but they also say he is remarkably unresponsive and doesn’t foster efficiency among his staff. He is, however, thoroughly entrenched and enjoys strong support from members of his board who represent employee interests.

Bush says he wants to schedule a meeting with the mayor, who was out of town earlier this week attending the U.S. Conference of Mayors, to talk about the Benefit Board. ”The mayor’s problem is a lack of understanding about what we’re trying to do,“ Bush says.

Not so hot

Red Hot & Blue, the Elliston Place barbecue restaurant opened by several politicos and other investors several years ago, has closed its doors.

Since its opening, investors such as state Rep. Matt Kisber of Jackson, Tenn., state House speaker Jimmy Naifeh of Covington, and Gov. Don Sundquist’s children have sold their majority interest in the Nashville franchise of the Red Hot & Blue restaurant chain. But the barbecue joint, in the building once occupied by Tony Roma’s, remained a hangout for lobbyists and lawmakers just the same. Now they’ll have to find somewhere else to go.

Sundquist was actually one of the founders of the restaurant chain. In 1988, when he was a congressman, Sundquist helped start the original Red Hot & Blue restaurant in Washington, D.C. As of last year, the chain included about two dozen franchises in 10 states.

To comment or offer suggestions, call Liz at (615) 244-7989, ext. 406, or e-mail her at liz@mail.nashscene.com.

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