Bill Phillips, former Metro deputy mayor in the Purcell Administration, confirmed for NashvillePost.com this afternoon that Bill Phillips Company has been retained by AT&T Tennessee to provide strategic public-affairs counsel.
AT&T's steady marshalling of forces occurs as the General Assembly prepares to debate proposals for radical changes in state laws governing cable-television and video-services franchise laws.
Phillips joined Mayor Purcell as chief of staff in 1999 and served as deputy mayor from 2000 until January this year. For five years prior to that, Phillips was Vanderbilt University's associate vice chancellor for university relations and director of government relations.
Earlier this week, NashvillePost.com reported that Purcell offered to help AT&T Tennessee rapidly obtain a local franchise to offer video services in Davidson County. AT&T declined the offer, preferring to pursue a statewide franchise, instead of dealing with Nashville and other municipalities on an individual basis, as currently required by state law.
Phillips' new job as counsel to AT&T seems to put him at odds with his former boss Purcell on this issue.
Phillips said he is not lobbying for AT&T and, in any event, does not believe that working for AT&T would conflict with ethics rules for former Metro officials that are embodied in Metro Code. He said he did not recall being involved while deputy mayor in any AT&T-related issues. Informed of NashvillePost.com's earlier report on an AT&T measure handled partly by the office of the mayor in 2001, Phillips said he does not recall that issue and was not involved in it.
Phillips has served in the past as assistant campaign manager of the 1992 Bush-Quayle presidential campaign, chief of staff for the Republican National Committee in Washington, D.C., as well as for the Reagan Administration's secretary of education. He also played key roles in several Republican National Conventions in the 1980s and 1990s.
In addition to Phillips, AT&T and, earlier, BellSouth has for some time employed the St. Louis-based global public relations firm Fleishman Hillard.
Within the past few weeks, Fleishman has recruited former Vermont Public Service Commission Commissioner Christine Salembier to help manage client AT&T's franchise-related media and community relations in Tennessee and several other states. Salembier had been appointed Vermont PSC chief by then-governor, later presidential aspirant and now Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean.
Salembier told NashvillePost.com she is working in coordination with AT&T Tennessee corporate staff in Nashville and with staff of McNeely Pigott & Fox Public Relations here, among others. The effort is further augmented by a large number of lobbyists and other vendors.