A memo prepared for Sen. Bill Ketron, chairman of the Legislature’s Fiscal Review Committee, says that the Department of General Service’s “emphasis on expeditiously completing procurements” may have limited competition for two state outsourcing contracts, reports WTVF-TV’s Phil Williams.
An excerpt: A recent meeting of the legislature’s Fiscal Review Committee, called to consider three questionable state contracts, ended up being a highly orchestrated endorsement of the Haslam administration.
The governor’s chief of staff, Mark Cate, had met privately with members of the contracts watchdog committee prior to the public session. And, by and large, committee members responded with effusive praise. Some suggested that, in this case, the media had got it wrong.
But a staff report, not shared with the full committee, told a more complicated story regarding at least two of the three state contracts.
Read the memo (HERE).
“Staff did not find evidence in the documentation reviewed that any violation of state law occurred,” the Fiscal Review Committee’s executive director, Lucian Geise, wrote in a July 15 memo to the committee’s chairman, Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro.
“However,” Geise concluded, “an emphasis on expeditiously completing procurements resulted in actions that may have reduced competition.”
And that was what our NewsChannel 5 investigation had suggested in the case of contracts awarded to Enterprise Rent-A-Car and Bridgestone Retail Operations.
Ketron never shared the staff memo with the rest of the committee.
A spokesperson for the Senate Republican Caucus said that the memo was written for Ketron’s “personal” benefit because he had been out of the country.
“He was not asking for information as chairman of the committee,” she said. “Rather, he asked for information in light of the fact that the stories appeared during his absence.”
Mark Cate, the governor’s chief of staff, acknowledged to state legislators Tuesday that mistakes were made in handling a multi-million dollar contract for management of state buildings but declared the overall effort a huge success that other states now want to emulate.
Appearing before the Legislature’s Fiscal Review Committee, Cate said Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration entered “unchartered territory” in contracting with Chicago-based Jones Lang LaSalle with inherent “complications and confusion” occurring at times.
One mistake was in not being sufficiently transparent about the move to legislators and the public, he said. Another was not drafting the original, competitively-bid proposed contract to reflect the maximum value to the winning company, he said, instead of listing it just as a $1 million study and later changing the amount upwards as new duties were added.
Cate also said officials have decided to have “a fresh set of eyes” conduct another review on one of JLL’s recommendation – demolishing the Cordell Hull building, which stands next to the state Capitol and is one of six major structures statewide slated for demolition as “functionally obsolete.” This has triggered some controversy in Nashville because of what Cate called the building’s “perceived historical significance.”
News release from Senate Republican Caucus:
(NASHVILLE, Tenn.), June 20, 2013 — Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville) has been reelected Chairman of the Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations (TACIR). The election took place during a two-day meeting of the commission in Nashville on June 19 and 20. Norris has served as Chairman since 2009 and begins his third two-year term.
“I appreciate the confidence that the members have placed in me to serve another term in this leadership role, ” said Senator Norris. “I look forward to continuing to build strong relationships between state, municipal and county governments and to work on solutions to substantive issues that we face together as Tennesseans.”
The General Assembly approved legislation this year directing TACIR to conduct a comprehensive study on annexation and make recommendations to the General Assembly on how to improve the process statewide. Their report is due in January. “This study requires in-depth research by the staff and thoughtful consideration by the members of the commission. I am pleased to continue to lead TACIR as we look into this issue as well as many others.”
TACIR began in 1978 after legislative findings indicated the need for a permanent intergovernmental body to study and take action on questions of organizational patterns, powers, functions, and relationships among federal, state and local governments. The 25-member group is made up of public officials from state, county and municipal governments as well as private citizens. Mayor Tom Roland of Cleveland, TN, was reelected to serve as Vice-Chairman.
Senator Norris has served as Tennessee’s Senate Majority Leader since 2007. He is Chair-elect of the Council of State Governments, a national organization which also fosters and encourages intergovernmental cooperation.
News release from Senate Republican Caucus:
NASHVILLE, Tenn.) – Senate Education Committee Chairman Dolores Gresham (R-Somerville) confirmed today that the Senate Education Committee will hold meetings in late summer or early fall to review facts regarding the state’s Common Core Standards. Gresham said the Committee will hear from critics from all ends of the political spectrum regarding concerns with the standards as well as gather testimony from proponents and state education officials.
The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) were developed by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSS0). Forty-five states and the District of Columbia have adopted the standards. Several states, however, have recently announced they are reevaluating them.
“These are fact-finding meetings,” said Senator Gresham. “Some parents and teachers have voiced concerns that we need to look at. It is also important that we review the progress of this program, including the latest test results. In addition, I want to evaluate how the standards might have affected state and local control.”
In Tennessee, the decision to adopt Common Core State Standards was made by Governor Phil Bredesen and the State Board of Education in July 2010. The State Board of Education is the governing and policy-making body for the Tennessee system of public elementary and secondary education. Since that time, school districts in Tennessee have phased in use of the Common Core State Standards for math and English language arts.
“It is very important that we have high academic standards to give our students the skills they need to compete in an increasingly global economy,” said Senator Gresham. “At the same time, I firmly believe that education is a state and local function and we must always work to ensure that we have the autonomy necessary to best serve the interest of Tennessee students. We will look at all the factors as we review how this program is serving our students and helping us reach our academic goals.”
Senator Gresham represents Senate District 26 which is comprised of Chester, Decatur, Fayette, Hardeman, Hardin, Haywood, McNairy, and Henderson Counties. She and her husband, Will, live on a farm in Somerville, Tennessee.
A legislative committee Wednesday approved Tennessee’s first regulations for the use of “fracking” to extract oil and natural gas from wells after hearing several environmentalist complain the rules don’t go far enough.
The vote effectively marks the last hurdle for putting the rules promulgated by the Department of Environment and Conservation into effect next month.
It came after the Republican majority on the Joint Government Operations Committee rejected a Democratic effort to also ask TDEC to consider adding provisions to the rules in the future.
House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner, who made the motion, said the idea was to at least require consideration of some suggestions from the environmentalists. Under his motion, TDEC would have considered requiring companies to publicly disclose all chemicals they use, to conduct periodic testing of water wells within a mile of fracking sites and to mandate that companies file plans for dealing with leftover waste water.
On an initial vote, two Senate Republicans sided with Democrats. The ensuing convoluted parliamentary situation was resolved when one of the Republicans, Sen. Ferrell Haile of Gallatin, changed to vote with GOP colleagues.
After much grumbling, state legislators on two government oversight committees have reluctantly acquiesced to fee increases that will extract millions of dollars from the Tennessee Valley Authority, dentists, veterinarians and an array of Tennessee businesses.
“We had a choice between bad and worse,” declared Senate Government Operations Committee Chairman Mike Bell, R-Riceville, after his committee and its House counterpart, meeting jointly, more or less signed off Wednesday on the fee increases.
He and other members of the panels also said they are looking for ways to give the committees more teeth and to hold government departments, boards and commissions more accountable.
“This is a place to fuss,” said House Republican Caucus Chairman Glen Casada, R-Franklin, speaking of last week’s special meeting for consideration of rules proposed by various state entities.
The Senate Finance Committee has approved, 7-4, legislation that would authorize sale of wine in grocery stores.
The bill (SB837) was approved in a Wednesday evening meeting of the panel, which has been debating it for some time. On April 2, it failed on a 5-5-1 tie vote in the committee.
Those changing their position Wednesday from the first vote were Sen. Doug Henry, D-Nashville, who voted yes instead of no, and Sen. Ferrell Haile, R-Gallatin, who abstained the first time and voted yes on Wednesday.
The House companion bill failed earlier in committee, so the bill is dead for the year. Approval by the Senate committee, however, means that it will be poised for a vote on the Senate floor when legislators return for the 2014 session.
“We’ll wait and see what the House does in January,” said Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, in a brief Senate floor speech.
— Note: A statement from proponents of the bill is below.
Rep. Vance Dennis told fellow lawmakers that his bill to rewrite Tennessee knife laws has “drawn some sharp criticism” from law enforcement officers, so he proposed an amendment “to strip out the language sheriffs think is too pointed.”
Members of the House Finance Committee agreed and cut the bill (HB581) down to the size approved by the Tennessee Sheriffs Association and other law enforcement groups.
As passed by the Senate 27-3 last month, the bill repealed most of current state law on knives – including portions that now ban ownership of switchblades and, in some circumstances, carrying knives with blades longer than four inches.
Those provisions were slashed from the bill by Dennis’ amendment. All that remains is a section that says no local government can adopt an ordinance regulating knives that is more stringent than state law.
The revised bill, containing only the “state preemption” provision, was approved by the committee and sent toward a House floor vote. Dennis told the committee he will oppose any attempts to change the bill back into the form approved by the Senate.
Terry Ashe, executive director of the Tennessee Sheriffs Association, said the Senate-passsed bill is “a real officer safety issue” as he could personally testify “having been up against a switchblade” while serving as sheriff of Wilson County.
Ashe said law enforcement officers were “uniformly” against the bill in its original form, once they had heard about it, and believe that leaving only the preemption provision is “a pretty good compromise.”
Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, sponsor of the bill in the Senate, said current state law effectively prohibits carrying a knife for self-defense purposes and the original bill would have allowed that.
In the House committee, Rep. Craig Fitzhugh, R-Ripley, at one point proposed an amendment to give brass knuckles equal footing with knives, but withdrew the idea after Dennis’ proposed his revision of the bill.
By Lucas Johnson, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A proposal that would create a special panel to authorize charter schools in several Tennessee counties passed a key legislative committee on Wednesday and is headed for a full House vote after the bill was amended to provide oversight of the entity.
The measure sponsored by Republican Rep. Mark White of Memphis was approved on a voice vote in the House Finance Committee and will now be scheduled for a vote on the House floor.
The panel would oversee five of the state’s lowest-performing counties: Davidson, Hamilton, Hardeman, Knox and Shelby.
Charter schools are public schools that are funded with state and local tax dollars. But they don’t have to meet some of the state regulations that traditional public schools do as they try to find different ways to improve student learning.
Currently, local school boards decide whether to authorize a charter application. There are 48 charter schools in Tennessee.
Senate Judiciary Committee members on Thursday directed the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation to let them view files of the agency’s probe into allegations involving 10th District Attorney Steve Bebb of Cleveland, reports Andy Sher. Seven members, including Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, voted in favor of the resolution. Two members, Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, and Senate Democratic Caucus Chairman Lowe Finney, of Jackson, abstained.
A similar effort in the House stalled at least temporarily after Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley, blocked approval of nine bills and resolutions on various matters, only one of which involved Bebb, by the three-member Delayed Bills Committee. Approval requires all three members.
House GOP leaders say they intend to put that back on track today.
Reached by telephone Tuesday night, Bebb said, “I really don’t want to make any comment right now.”
The effort to obtain the TBI’s investigation of Bebb comes after Tennessee Attorney General Robert Cooper on March 25 released his long-awaited report on Bebb and alleged misconduct in the 10th Judicial District, which includes Bradley, Polk, McMinn and Monroe counties.
Relying on the TBI investigation, Cooper criticized Bebb’s office for poor judgment, mismanagement and deficient record keeping. But Cooper said he found no prosecutable evidence against Bebb on allegations of prosecutorial and financial misconduct, speaking untruthfully under oath and other offenses.
Bell and Rep. Eric Watson, R-Cleveland, had called on Cooper to investigate following questions raised about Bebb last year in a Times Free Press series.
“This is not an issue I take up lightly,” Judiciary Committee Chairman Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, told colleagues late Tuesday afternoon. “It is not an issue that is meant to reveal information that is confidential. But it is a serious issue and it’s important for the Judiciary Committee to exercise its oversight ability.”