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.”
A Department of Economic and Community development memo, prepared while ECD considered state incentive grants to ProNova Solutions, pointed out that one of the company’s executives is a “personal friend” of Gov. Bill Haslam, reports Josh Flory. Earlier this year, ProNova Solutions — the local firm that is gearing up to create proton therapy equipment — announced plans for a new headquarters and research facility at Pellissippi Place technology park, in Blount County.
As part of that deal, the company is paying virtually nothing for 26 acres, and no property taxes for the first eight years after its phase one facility is completed. It will pay the full property tax rate only after 12 years.
But those local incentives aren’t the only ones on offer.
After the News Sentinel filed an open-records request, the state Department of Economic and Community Development confirmed this month that it has offered nearly $4.3 million in grants to ProNova, including $3.7 million for public infrastructure in the park and $525,000 for job training.
Clint Brewer, a spokesman for the department, said in an email last week that the project was working its way through the department’s approval process, and that the grant had not yet been contracted.
In addition, the Tennessee Department of Transportation has committed more than $1.5 million in State Industrial Access road funds for a road extension related to the project.
Like most such incentive deals, the package is based on the expectation that the state will reap plenty of rewards in terms of job creation.
ProNova is expected to invest $52 million in the project and employ 500 people by 2018, and ProNova CEO Terry Douglass has estimated that the company could have revenues of $3.5 billion by 2023.
The internal state documents provided an interesting look at the process, though.
A briefing prepared for ECD Commissioner Bill Hagerty, in preparation for a call with a ProNova executive, noted that Douglass had previously met with Gov. Bill Haslam.
“Terry is a personal friend of the Governor’s,” the briefing added.
In an email, Brewer — the ECD spokesman — said the briefing was prepared in the spring of 2012. He said the notation about Douglass’ friendship with Haslam is not the sort of information that is typically included in such a briefing.
“The staff that prepared this briefing was trying to provide as much information as possible,” Brewer said. “The department’s decisions about incentives are based on the merits of a project and return on investment to the state. This information has no bearing on the department’s incentive process.”
Brewer said the commissioner never saw the briefing memo, which was prepared by staff no longer with the department.
Douglass said in an interview that he discussed ProNova with the governor about a year ago, although he said incentives weren’t discussed at that time.
Brent Leatherwood, spokesman for the House Republican Caucus, has sent members this memo on the history of partisan majorities in the Tennessee General Assembly:
Re: FACTSHEET about Supermajorities in Tennessee
The following information has been verified by the Office of the Librarian. What is the largest House supermajority in Tennessee history? What Party was in power? Who was the Speaker?
* Governor Brownlow’s Administration in 1865 had a 99 House and 33 Senate
vote majority. (Note: They were known as “unionists,” according to Legislative Librarian Eddie Weeks — but effectively Republicans. Also, Weeks says the House had just 75 members and the Senate 25 in 1865. The size was expanded by the 1870 state constitution.)
* SINCE 1901: In the House of Representatives, at the start of 1939 (the
71st General Assembly), the party breakdown was 84 Democrats, 14 Republicans (70 majority D). The Speaker was John Ed O’Dell. When is the last time a House majority had over 65 Members?
* At the start of 1977 (the 90th General Assembly), the party breakdown was
66 D, 32 R. When is the last time a House Majority had over 70 Members?
* At the start of 1965 (the 84th General Assembly), the party breakdown was
74 D, 25 R. Overall, are supermajorities common in Tennessee history?
* The last time one party held a 2/3rds majority in both Houses was 1977 (35
* However, from 1901 (the 52nd GA) until 1967 (the 84th GA) the Democrats
never held LESS THAN a 2/3rds majority in both houses (67 years).
* The high points of control in those years:
* HOUSE: At the start of 1939 (the 71st General Assembly), the Party
breakdown was 84 D, 14 R (70 majority D).
* SENATE: At the start of 1943 (the 73rd General Assembly), the Party
breakdown was 30 D, 3 R (27 majority D).
* Even in 1967 (the 84th General Assembly), the Democrats still held a
2/3rds majority in the Senate (25 D, 8 R); their majority in the House was 58 D,
41 R; down from 74 D, 25 R in 1965.
* From 1969 until 1977, neither party held a 2/3rds majority in either
Chamber. Bottom Line
* Since 1901 (111 years), there were 67 straight years of 2/3rds majority,
followed by once in the next 44 years.
* Supermajorities were once very common, but have been very uncommon since
A Shelby County Election Commission personnel memo shows management missteps, including those marring August elections in Collierville and Millington, led to a suspension and probation for administrator of elections Richard Holden.
Further from the Commercial Appeal: But the commission’s decision to discipline Holden apparently was made at an executive session, closed to the public, after an Aug. 28 special meeting, and would appear to violate the state’s open meetings law.
Holden on Friday had a one-word response to the questions about whether he believes the commission’s actions were just: “No.”
Election commission members Thursday declined to provide details about Holden’s three-day suspension without pay, set for Oct. 1-3, and six-month probation through February, that were spelled out in an Aug. 29 memorandum. But the two-page memo in Holden’s Shelby County government personnel file made available Friday cites issues with the Aug. 2 elections in Millington and Collierville, as well as general management issues as reasons for the disciplinary action.
In addition, the commission warned Holden, who has an annual salary of $96,400, that the results of an investigation of the election problems by the state comptroller’s office could trigger further discipline, “up to and including termination of your employment,” the memo states.
The commission also provided Holden with an eight-point list of actions required during his probation, ranging from completing the upcoming Nov. 6 election “without a major incident” to attending a Dale Carnegie or similar leadership training course. Carnegie was the author of the book “How to Win Friends and Influence People.”
The personnel memo, which a handwritten note signed by commission chairman Robert Meyers says was given to and discussed with Holden on Aug. 30, cites the following as causes for the suspension and probation.
Mike Morrow asked Matt Kisber, former commissioner of the Department of Economic and Community Development, about the Amazon deal over the weekend.
An excerpt from his resulting TNReport:
When asked Saturday night at the Tennessee Democratic Party’s Jackson Day Dinner in Nashville if the Amazon agreement was in writing, Kisber gave a long pause. “I don’t actually remember,” he said, then taking another pause. “I really don’t. I don’t know if we got an MOU (memorandum of understanding). That’s so far back now, in terms of what I’ve been dealing with, I don’t … I don’t honestly remember. I would have to defer to the current administration.
“I remember the discussions. I remember everything we discussed, but I don’t remember if it got … if there was a written agreement or not.”
Kisber and former Revenue Commissioner Reagan Farr have launched Silicon Ranch Corporation, a solar power development business, since leaving office. Bredesen is chairman of the operation.
Richard Roberts, current revenue commissioner under Gov. Bill Haslam, has refused to comment on Amazon’s deal, citing policies that prevent him from discussing agreements with private taxpayers.
Kisber said the project was in the works for many months and that there were multiple discussions involved in the deal. He recalled people on the site selection team, both on the consultant side and the company side, in the dealings with Amazon.
…Kisber said the issue, as it was explained to him, involved third-party handling of the products being sold.
“I was told we were not talking about Amazon books and CDs. We were talking about companies for whom Amazon provides fulfillment services through their Internet platform,” Kisber said. “There are hundreds of companies that you buy from if you use Amazon that is not being sold by Amazon but is being fulfilled (by Amazon).
“And Tennessee has other companies that provide that type of service as well. This was consistent in my thinking with the services of those types of companies.”
Kisber complimented Haslam’s handling of the issue.
“Whenever an economic development project becomes political theater, it impacts the state’s reputation for business,” Kisber said. “And I commend Governor Haslam for working to resolve the issue and tone down the rhetoric so Tennessee can focus on its wonderful business climate and using that to attract projects to the state.”
Kisber attributed his inability to recall specific details on the Amazon deal to the passage of time since he worked for the State of Tennessee.