The Chicago-based company that holds a controversial multimillion-dollar contract to manage state government buildings and leases has hired a lobbyist who formerly worked for House Speaker Beth Harwell and the state Republican Party.
Gregory Gleaves registered June 18 as lobbyist for Chicago-based Jones Lang LaSalle, according to the Tennessee Ethics Commission website. That was about the time media reports emerged on how the company’s dealings with the state expanded from an initial $1 million study of state buildings into a contract worth up to $330 million, prompting legislative leaders to say they’ll have a committee look into the matter.
“Obviously Jones Lang LaSalle has gotten some attention lately,” Gleaves said in an email response to an inquiry about his new lobbying position. “My job is to ensure that what they are doing for the state is clearly understood. Jones Lang LaSalle is helping the state in its vision to save money for Tennessee taxpayers. I am pleased to play a role in telling that story.”
Gleaves was executive director of the Tennessee Republican Party when hired by Harwell as her chief of staff in 2011. He stepped down in July 2012, to become a lobbyist with Hall Strategies, which declared in a news release that he “spearheaded efforts that led to dramatic change in Tennessee politics” while at the state GOP.
Subsequently, the release said, he “served as Harwell’s principal aide, senior political adviser and primary strategic liaison to other government officials. He oversaw all operations of the state House of Representatives, including management of 130-plus staff, administration, policies and procedures.”
Gov. Bill Haslam, who listed JLL among his major investments while running for governor in 2010, vigorously defended the contract when questioned by reporters last week and declared he had “absolutely zero” personal interest in the company. All his assets, except for those involving family-controlled Pilot Flying J, were placed in a blind trust when he was inaugurated in 2011.
Haslam said the JLL contract, part of an administration plan that involves closing five old buildings and leasing more space for state workers, will save taxpayers $100 million over the next decade. He said it is “new territory” and something “literally no other states have done.”
“The reality is, when you change something big in state government — anything — it brings up questions and issues to people because this is a sea change in what we’re doing,” the governor said.
“But it’s also important to note that we’re going to save a lot of money, we’re going to provide better space, and we’re addressing some major life-safety issues which we had in our buildings that I’m glad we’re finally addressing,” he said.
Haslam acknowledged having dinner with JLL executives at the governor’s residence last year prior to contract extensions, but said there was no conversation about the extensions at the time.
“We had the dinner because at this point in time we were thinking about them obviously managing a big chunk of the state’s business and I wanted to have a face-to-face conversation just like if I was going out to hire an individual to do something. To me, there’s nothing extraordinary about that at all,” he said.