Legislators want more answers to Jones Lang LaSalle questions

With questions piling up on the Jones Lang LaSalle contract and other aspects of the state’s procurement system, the the House and Senate Government Operations Committees have decided to bring the contract and other issues back before the legislative committees in the coming session, reports Andy Sher.

“There were just a lot of questions from the members and we knew we didn’t have time,” Senate Government Operations Committee Chairman Mike Bell, R-Riceville, said over the weekend.

Bell noted that the state made a “pretty radical change” to the procurement process.
“And I know there have been some aspects to it that have not been fully understood by the Legislature or the public,” he said. “And it’s looked bad.”

The lawmaker quickly added that “whether the appearances of impropriety are actual, I’m not sure. I haven’t seen any evidence of it and, again, it may be that this is a business model that will benefit the state in the long run.”

Among other things, the comptroller’s audit echoed questions raised in news accounts about potential conflicts of interest. The company is in charge of making recommendations about leased office space needs and also is paid commissions on deals struck with real estate firms.

Haslam says the overall outsourcing will save taxpayers more than $200 million over 10 years. Jones Lang LaSalle also now runs many state office buildings and was put in charge of assessing state office needs and the condition of existing buildings, as well as consolidating state office space.

…At the Dec. 18 hearing, members delved into the conflict issue as well as how the contract with Jones Lang LaSalle expanded. The contract grew from an initial $1 million assessment of state real estate functions into what was envisioned as a $19 million per year contract estimated at $100 million over five years.

Thad Watkins, general counsel for General Services, disagreed with the audit’s conclusion that the scope of the original contract was too broad or that it grew even more by amendments beneficial to JLL.

“We want to put to rest once and for all that this contract grew from its original conception,” Watkins said.

He pointed out that the original contract, as approved by the State Building Commission, “was planned from the very beginning to be grown by amendment as funds became available.”

Rep. Joe Carr, R-Lascassas, was skeptical of a General Services official’s assertion that lists of services attached to the original contract were either specifically set forth or “logical extensions” of the contract.

“So if the amendments were an obvious and expected extension of the contract … then why are they amendments?” Carr asked. “Why aren’t they part of the contract as originally written and proposed?”

Told that they weren’t included because the money wasn’t available, Carr said, “your logic poses some challenges.”

Senate Minority Leader Jim Kyle, D-Memphis, pounced on the issue.

“That is probably true,” Kyle said. “And if it is, it has to be the greatest disrespect I’ve ever seen to the General Assembly’s budgeting process in 30 years — ‘We know we’re going to be spending the money, but we’re not going to tell you we’re going to be spending the money.’”

Kyle said he didn’t know of anyone in the Haslam administration ever making a presentation to a legislative committee discussing how the administration planned to embark on a major change in state policy.

Note: WTVF-TV did a one-hour special on Jones Lange LaSalle dealings, coupled with a review of Haslam’s contracting with lobbyist Tom Ingram. IT’s available HERE.