Tennessee Republican Gov. Bill Lee has appointed one of Chattanooga’s Electric Power Board vice presidents to serve as the state’s new commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance.
That man, according to a statement by the governor’s office, is Hodgen Mainda, who currently serves as EPB’s vice president for community development.
Mainda is scheduled to start at the Department of Commerce & Insurance on Oct. 1.
“Hodgen joins my cabinet after an outstanding career as a community leader in Chattanooga,” Governor Lee said in a statement announcing the appointment. “He is respected for his ability to build partnerships across multiple sectors and we welcome his leadership to such a multifaceted department like Commerce & Insurance.”
As The Tennessee Watchdog reported in 2011, EPB officials spent $111 million of federal stimulus money — taxpayer money — on a Smart Grid that would help the public utility compete against already-existing private Internet Service Providers.
The Smart Grid, in all, cost $300 million.
Customers who only used EPB’s electrical service financed $160 million via a loan to EBP Telecom, while EPB’s actual Internet and cable television customers were responsible for the remainder.
As The Tennessee Watchdog reported that year, private competitors were unhappy.
Then-EPB head Harold DePriest told the website that year that Chattanooga residents cared little for how it was financed.
“To tell you the truth, my customers don’t care as long as they get good services at a good price,” DePriest said.
“When we got in business, Chattanooga had 20 High Definition channels. Today we have 120. When we got in business we had exceedingly slow Internet, but now we’ve got one gigabyte.”
EPB is one of nine publicly-owned communications networks in Tennessee.
At the time, those nine publicly-owned communications networks had accumulated a deficit of $176 million.
Most government-owned communications networks, however, do not make profits the same way a private business would, said Ronald Rizzuto, author of a study into the matter and a professor of finance at the University of Denver.
Furthermore, anyone who believes government should make this service available has not yet realized something, Rizzuto told Tennessee Watchdog in 2011.
“Obviously, the Internet has become a critical asset for any business, but, by the same token, what about private rights?” Rizzuto asked.
“This is like saying McDonald’s hamburgers are a necessity, so government-run entities must offer hamburger stands to compete. At the same time, there is the whole private infrastructure that they are competing against.”
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Chris Butler got his master’s degree in communications from the University of Louisiana at Monroe and his bachelor’s degree in political science from Louisiana Tech University.
Chris worked as a newspaper reporter for seven years and later was an investigative reporter for Tennessee Watchdog from 2010 to 2017. From May 2018 to August 3, 2018 Chris was the Tennessee communications director for the TennValues PAC, which endorsed Bill Lee for governor. Chris has served as the investigative reporter for The Tennessee Star since August 6, 2018.