With state-level elective offices firmly in its control, the state Republican Party is now ready to move on to local-level offices with a new “Red to the Roots” program, says Tennessee Republican Chairman Chris Devaney.
The idea is to encourage county Republican parties to designate nominees for city and county elective offices where they can. Currently, most cities and counties have nonpartisan elections for local office, though state law generally allows county parties to designate party nominees if they wish — exceptions including cases in which a city or county charter specifies bipartisan elections.
“We’ve had a lot of success with our state-level candidates,” Devaney said, referring to the GOP supermajority in the Legislature and Republicans holding the governor’s office, both U.S. Senate seats and seven of nine U.S. House seats. “Now, we’re ready to look at the local offices — county mayors, sheriffs and maybe a few judgeships.”
“These are places where Democrats still have a hold,” he said. “It’s their bench” for candidates who could in the future seek a state-level office. With local-level partisan campaigns he said, “We can build our bench.”
While the head of Tennessee’s newly centralized procurement system provided examples to legislators of savings to taxpayers last week, declaring they collectively total $113 million to day, state Rep. Jeremy Faison offered another example that didn’t sound so good.
Chief Procurement Officer Mike Perry’s examples included a dozen “ballpoint stick pens” that previously cost the state $1.55 for a box of a dozen versus 47 cents today and a ream of paper, previously $3.10, now $2.77.
Office supplies counted for $8 million of the projected $113 million in savings, a figure that includes comparing new multiyear contracts with old ones as well as some one-time purchases. The biggest projected savings, $33 million, was on Oracle software through “strategic sourcing,” which involves negotiating with current contract holders.
In the latter case, the vendor initially said that new software needed to bring TennCare computers into compliance with new provisions of federal law would cost $39 million, Perry said. After the negotiation, the price was $6 million.
A board composed of three state officials has upheld the Department of Correction’s award of a $241 million contract to a company that employs Correction Commissioner Derrick Schofield’s wife, though its bid was more than $15 million higher than a competitor.
The decision of the state Procurement Office’s “protests board” was announced to members of the Legislature’s Fiscal Review Committee, some of whom have separately raised questions about the contract for providing medical services to inmates in the state prison system.
But because of what Chairman Bill Ketron described as “a squirrley situation,” no questions were asked at the panel’s meetings this week and the committee instead approved a temporary extension of the current contract, which is scheduled to expire at the end of this month.
The panel also put off inquiries into two other state contracts that Ketron said have at least the appearance of a “common thread” in that they were awarded to companies that have some connection to government insiders.
A Chicago-based real estate services firm that recommended Tennessee government unload six state-owned office buildings will benefit financially as the state moves to lease new space in the private market, reports Andy Sher. According to state General Services Department documents, Jones Lang LaSalle is poised to take 4 percent off the top on deals with private companies for leased office space in Chattanooga, Nashville and Memphis.
Hired as a consultant to review and assess 33 state-owned buildings, Jones Lang LaSalle last year recommended closing five “old and obsolete” state buildings. The list included the 59-year-old State Office Building at 400 McCallie Ave. in Chattanooga and the nearby James R. Mapp Building, which is newer. Both buildings require expensive repairs; the firm said it would be cheaper to build new or move into leased space than renovate.
Then last month, the General Services Department quietly inked a five-year contract with Jones Lang LaSalle to manage and maintain all state property overseen by the department as well as leasing.
“We do not see a conflict of interest,” said Kelly K. Smith, General Services’ assistant commissioner for communications. “The services were publicly procured through an open bid process that was approved by the State Building Commission.”
The department employs 126 people for the duties that Jones Lang LaSalle will assume July 1. The employees will lose their state jobs but can apply for work with the firm, although there is no guarantee they will be hired.
Jones Lang LaSalle beat out CBRE United States for the contract, Smith said.
Smith also noted that Jones Long LaSalle recommended the state build and own new space in Chattanooga as opposed to leasing commercial space because it was cheaper.
“However, the state evaluated their proposal and decided to move forward with the leasing option,” Smith said.
The State Office Building (former Interstate Life Building) and the Mapp Building collectively required $15.8 million of capital investment to continue operations. Yet both would have been functionally obsolete and expensive to operate.
…Smith said General Services chose the leasing route for several reasons, including that it “offered greater flexibility to meet the needs of our clients/tenants.”
Jones Lang LaSalle estimated that over 20 years, the state would save $28.4 million on a new, smaller, more efficient building in Chattanooga. Leasing is expected to save $18.4 million over the same period, according to a February report by the firm.
…What employees think they’re seeing from Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration and especially from Cates “is an execution of a certain political philosophy, which is privatization” of what many think of as public functions, McConnell said.
But he said he’s skeptical that privatization is always a big cost saver.
“The prime goal [for the private contractor] is to make a dollar, and every decision they have to make about what they’re going to do has to be filtered through that.”
The state is outsourcing the management of its portfolio of its office properties, a move that will require about 125 employees to apply for jobs with the vendor taking over that work, reports The Tennessean. Officials expect to save roughly $50 million over the next five years from Chicago-based real estate services firm Jones Lang LaSalle taking over facilities management for 10.5 million square feet of state-owned and leased office properties statewide starting July 1.
Under a previous contract, Jones Lang LaSalle conducted an assessment of 33 major state properties that led to the recommendation that the state should reduce its footprint to 1.4 million square feet by the second quarter next year.
That will come from a combination of moving some employees to space in underutilized state-owned buildings and completely leaving state-owned properties deemed as too costly to maintain and operate.
“We’re having an expert handle the facilities management for us,” said Steve Cates, the state’s General Services commissioner, who in addition to the $50 million in savings sees Tennessee avoiding $25 million in one-time costs, plus $3 million annually, by not having to purchase and maintain the necessary technology and equipment, as well as set up a call center.
…Under the five-year contract, Jones Lang would be paid a management fee of up to $5 million a year. The company also will continue to help General Services with business
analysis to determine whether to spend on buildings and capital projects across the state.
The affected state employees were informed last month the state would no longer be employing people in job categories such as facilities administrators, facilities managers and building maintenance workers. They’re eligible for interviews for positions available under the new operating model, said Peter Uber, a Jones Lang managing director.
State Rep. Glen Casada and state Sen. Jack Johnson, both Franklin Republicans, have filed a bill that would create an Office of the Repealer, whose job would be to identify potentially unnecessary rules and regulations to be repealed, reports The Tennessean. The repealer would offer recommendations to the governor, the state legislature and the secretary of state.
“We’re using bureaucracy to cut bureaucracy,” Casada said. “We’re using government against itself.”
House Bill 500, filed Thursday, calls for adding the repealer’s position to the secretary of state’s office. If the bill were to pass the legislature and be signed into law by Gov. Bill Haslam, the repealer would be asked to find state law and rules that are “unreasonable, unduly burdensome, duplicative, contradictory or unnecessary.”
The repealer would make nonbinding recommendations to the secretary of state and the legislature every three months and to the governor once a year.
More than 30 lawmakers, including House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner of Old Hickory, have signed on as co-sponsors of the measure.
— Note: The news release is below.
A study commissioned by the state has found four state office buildings to be “old and obsolete” — the Cordell Hull State Office Building and John Sevier State Office Building in Nashville, the Donnelly J. Hill State Office Building in Memphis and the Chattanooga State Office Building.
The latter is the central focus of an Andy Sher article in the Chattanooga Times-Free Press. It was found to need $8.5 million in renovations, purchased by the state for $5.85 million in 1981 and subsequently renovated. John Fetz, senior managing director of Jones Lang LaSalle, told State Building Commission members this summer they should start looking to move offices in all four buildings into other space.
…In its study for a proposed state “master plan,” Jones Lang LaSalle examined 33 of the 156 buildings managed by the Department of General Services. The 33 buildings collectively amount to 4.6 million square feet of office space.
The consultants identified an estimated $241.1 million worth of problems requiring immediate or short-term investments in the 33 buildings. They also called for a modern facility management and operation model.
The Jones Lang LaSalle study dovetails with Gov. Bill Haslam’s ambitious statewide Transforming Tennessee for Tomorrow (T3) plan.
T3 aims to move a number of operations and employees from leased office space into state-owned buildings.
The Department of General Services aims to slash operating costs by concentrating workers more closely and boosting efficiency through updated office environments that spur greater collaboration, according to the plan.
Officials aim to cut the amount of owned and leased office space by nearly 1 million square feet from the present 5.47 million square feet over 10 years and save close to 10 percent, or $102.7 million, in operating costs.
Under Jones Lang LaSalle’s proposed facility recommendations, Tennessee could save $18.8 million in operating costs a year.
…Final recommendations on the Chattanooga building are still under review, said Kelly Smith, spokeswoman for General Services Commissioner Steve Cates.
The building is one of the state’s most underused, figures show. The state could move many Chattanooga employees from leased space to that building, or agencies now in the building could move to leased quarters, Smith said.
Smith said a decision would come later this year or early in 2013.
She said the state for years has not “invested the capital needed to keep the buildings up” adequately. The Haslam administration took office 20 months ago.
When former state senator John Ford returned to Memphis last week after four years in federal prison, his TV news cameo raised the unlikely prospect of a political comeback, according to The Commercial Appeal. “You watch what I do,” Ford told reporters before disappearing into a halfway house where he’s banned from media contact. “I am not down. I am not out. I am way out in front.”
There’s a state law that says people convicted of a felony involving a political office can never run for public office again. The law change marks the end of an era in Tennessee, where politicians once could return to offices they’d disgraced.
Yet, Ford might have some wiggle room.
One of the law’s primary sponsors, former state Rep. Frank Buck, said last week he’s unsure if the law applies to Ford, who was convicted in April 2007, just weeks before it took effect July 1.
“It may or may not apply to him,” said Buck, a Smithville, Tenn., attorney. “You’d have to ask the attorney general on that one. I had some questions, too. You get always into the ex post facto situation.”
Previously, disgraced officials found plenty of opportunity to reinvent themselves.
Former Memphis city councilman Rickey Peete did just that, going to prison in 1989 for bribery only to win re-election and return to prison in 2007 — again for bribery. In so doing, he earned a nickname — ‘Rickey Re-Peete.’
Politicians such as Peete became eligible to retake office after getting their voting and civil rights restored in a court of law. They can still get their rights restored under the new law — they just can’t hold elected office.
The law says the ban applies to state government as well as “any political subdivision.” Cities and counties are considered political subdivisions of the state.
“They ought to be eternally banned from office,” offered Buck, who said his bill was motivated by repeated scandals he witnessed over his 36 years in the legislature. “Something needed to be done.”
Whether Ford, now 70, even wants back into politics is an uncertain question.
His brother, Joe Ford, thinks not.
“I doubt it. They passed that law where you can’t go back,” said Ford, a former Shelby County commissioner and one-time interim county mayor. “When we’re together we don’t talk about politics. I don’t want to speak for him. But that would be something he would have to decide.”
If Scottie Mayfield wins Tennessee’s 3rd District congressional race, he would be the first non-Chattanoogan to capture the post since the 1890s, observes Chris Carroll. With that in mind, some of the Scenic City’s public officials have wondered whether the dairy executive would keep Chattanooga’s congressional office or open an office closer to his Athens, Tenn., home.
The answer may be both.
In an interview Saturday at the opening of his Chattanooga campaign headquarters, Mayfield smiled, hesitated and said he hadn’t considered the congressional office question. First, he said, he must beat U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann and two others in the Aug. 2 Republican primary before squaring off against the Democratic nominee in November.
“It’s a cart-before-the-horse issue,” he said.
But in a subsequent conversation amid chatty supporters and coolers bursting with Mayfield milk and lemonade, he said he would keep a Chattanooga office “for sure,” adding that he might establish an Athens office “for my own convenience.” Mayfield also said he would staff an office near Oak Ridge, where numerous U.S. Department of Energy programs are housed.
By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Gov. Bill Haslam has relocated to temporary office space while the state Capitol gets renovated.
The work on the more than 150-year-old building includes repairs and upgrades to heating and air conditioning, plumbing, and electrical systems.
The $15 million project is scheduled to be completed in December.
Much of the mechanical and electrical equipment being replaced was installed in 1955.
The governor and about 35 staffers have decamped to the 27th floor of the nearby William R. Snodgrass Tennessee Tower while the work is under way.
The end of the legislative session last week signaled that work on the Capitol could begin. Staffers packed up offices and art handlers got to work covering up busts to protect them against damage.
The governor’s suite in the Capitol includes a reception area, a conference room and his personal office. The deputy to the governor, the administration’s top lobbyist and the finance commissioner have also vacated their offices on the main floor of the Capitol.
The change is perhaps most striking for Haslam staffers with offices on the subterranean level. The level was designed as an armory and fuel depot, but was converted into offices in the 1950s.
Those aides — including Haslam’s communications and legal teams — now have windows with unobstructed views of city.
Also affected by the Capitol renovations are the offices of the House and Senate clerks and the state’s treasurer, comptroller and secretary of state.
The work was originally scheduled to take place in 2011, but the newly sworn-in Haslam administration didn’t want to immediately move out of the Statehouse upon taking office.
Construction fencing is going up around the Capitol grounds, and all public entrances will be locked for the duration of the project.
The Capitol was completed in 1859, but the General Assembly began using the unfinished building six years earlier.