Tag Archives: Privatization

Admission of inmates halted by problems at new private TN prison

By Travis Loller, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee’s newest prison has stopped taking inmates after just four months of full operation. Records obtained by The Associated Press suggest why.

State corrections officials and the private prisons operator Corrections Corporation of America confirmed to the AP that the Trousdale Turner Correctional Center halted new admissions two weeks ago, leaving the 2500-inmate prison about two-thirds full.

A company spokesman on Tuesday blamed “growing pains.” Both said the decision was made jointly.

“We’re holding off on sending more prisoners until CCA has an opportunity to increase its recruiting efforts and staffing,” Tennessee Department of Correction Assistant Commissioner Tony Parker told the AP.

The prison in Hartsville began receiving inmates in January, between 50 and 100 each week. By early March, its warden was replaced. CCA provided few details about the change of command.

But a March 17 report to Parker from his Correctional Administrator Tony Howerton, who observed the prison over two days, outlines a series of problems.

The memo — obtained by the AP through an open records request for public documents about the taxpayer-funded facility — says the guards were not in control of the housing units, were not counting inmates correctly, and were putting inmates in solitary confinement for no documented reason.
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Outsourcing opponents deliver letter to governor

About 15 state university employees and United Campus Workers union members delivered a letter to Gov. Bill Haslam’s outsourcing team Tuesday expressing concerns about the process and asking officials to accept public comment on the plan to privatize the operation and maintenance of state-owned property, according to Richard Locker.

About two-thirds of the group was blocked at the security checkpoint in the Tennessee Tower state office building but five representatives were allowed to deliver the letter to the 16th floor offices of state officials and consultants in charge of the controversial outsourcing initiative.

Michelle Martin, the project’s communications manager, spoke with the workers and minutes later, project director Terry Cowles returned to his office from a meeting and also responded to the workers’ questions and comments.

The surprise visit was organized by UCW, a division of the Communications Workers of America, and billed as a protest to demand transparency in the outsourcing project with employees and the public. Participants were civil with each other, although Mike Ledyard, a consultant on the outsourcing team, interrupted to ask Martin, “Are you aware that they are recording you?” after he spotted a worker recording the meeting with a cellphone.

“Yes. That’s fine that they’re recording,” she said.

Scott Martindale, a facilities services employee at Middle Tennessee State University, said the project’s state website has little contact information and no mechanism for public comments, and that telephone calls and messages with have gone unanswered. The website has short biographies of the project’s officers but the only contact information listed is Martin’s.

Cowles said he would consider add some form of public comment mechanism.

“We’ll take that under advisement but I think that’s a reasonable request,” he said.

Legislators hear bashing of Haslam outsourcing plan

State and University of Tennessee employees told a Senate committee Tuesday that if Gov. Bill Haslam’s plan to outsource the operation and maintenance of all state property and buildings sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Further from Richard Locker:

The Senate State & Local Government Committee heard presentations from the Tennessee State Employees Association and from Tom Anderson, a buyer in UT’s Facilities Services office — the first time that workers have testified formally in a legislative committee since the massive outsourcing initiative was publicly revealed last August.

Two weeks ago, the governor’s outsourcing team presented to the same panel its “business justification” for outsourcing: that a private contractor could save up to $35.8 million when fully implemented, without cutting staff or benefits, primarily through volume purchasing, better-trained staff and more work performed in-house directly by contractor’s employees.

But TSEA spokesman Chris Dauphin told the committee that “essentially means” that when the state buys good and services, “we are being overcharged by $35.8 million.” He said outsourcing everything is an overreaction to a small problem that can be corrected.

“Let’s simply leverage our $30 billion plus enterprise (state government’s annual budget) to negotiate better pricing on goods and services, cross-train our current employees and let state employees continuing the great work they are doing.”

Dauphin also said private contractors often charge extra for services not specified in a contract. He read Texas media reports to the committee of “cost shifting” by the private vendor at Texas A&M University, which the governor’s outsourcing team says is a model for facilities management outsourcing.

Randy Stamps, a former state legislator and legislative staffer who now heads TSEA, cited the Legislature’s experience with Jones Lang LaSalle’s state contract to manage the Legislative Plaza, including having to file work orders to Chicago to obtain simple maintenance tasks.

…The committee chairman, Sen. Ken Yager, R-Kingston, said it’s too early to say whether the committee will make a recommendation on the governor’s outsourcing initiative.

AP’s TN-oriented story on probation privatization

By Adam Geller and Sharon Cohen, AP National Writers
MURFREESBORO, Tennessee — Outside the $200-a-week motel room that Steven Gibbs and his family call home, the afternoon sun sparkled. Inside, though, he had the curtains pulled tight. After working third shift at a round-the-clock McDonalds, his wife, Debbie, sat on the edge of one bed, her eyes closed. But the hour didn’t matter.

“Half the time I’m scared to go outside the door,” said Gibbs, 61, a former construction worker jailed twice since late 2013 after he couldn’t pay hundreds of dollars in probation fees for driving on a suspended license. Despite a court order barring the county and a private probation company from jailing him again, those fears lingered.

“I don’t trust none of them anymore,” Gibbs said, in late January. The company continued charging him fees until last week, when a judge agreed to put him on a new plan, supervised instead by the court, to pay down fines he owes the county.

Probation is supposed to substitute for jail or prison, requiring offenders to report regularly and maintain good behavior. But in this fast-growing county outside Nashville and more than a dozen states, probation for misdemeanors is a profit-making — and increasingly contentious — venture.

Those with cash to pay fines when they’re convicted often avoid supervision, while poor offenders can be snared in a cycle of debt and punishment. Critics of for-profit probation say it can create a modern “debtor’s prison.”

Rutherford County is just the latest hotspot in a widening debate over this system, which has spurred numerous lawsuits demanding change. Some communities have abandoned for-profit probation, others are vowing reform.
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Outsourcing outline includes job protection, draws protesters

By Eric Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration on Tuesday unveiled its “business justification” for a proposal to outsource building maintenance at state colleges and universities.

Meanwhile, campus workers protested against the plan in the legislative office complex and outside the state Capitol with chants of “Tennessee is not for sale.”

The United Campus Workers have criticized what they call Haslam’s “outsourcing frenzy” for targeting benefits-paying jobs at public colleges and universities.

But Haslam’s outsourcing advisers and consultants say the plan could save $28 million on campuses each year, while protecting the jobs of all currently employed campus maintenance workers who are deemed to be “qualified and productive.”

“There will be no layoffs, nobody will lose their job because of this,” Haslam told reporters. “That’s somehow gotten lost in all of the discussion.”
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Higher ed privatization plan to get outside review

By Eric Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration announced Wednesday that it has agreed with higher education leaders to have an outside group review the Republican’s privatization plan for building maintenance at Tennessee’s public colleges and universities.

Haslam plans to release his “business justification” for his privatization efforts by the end of the month. The governor has said the University of Tennessee and Board of Regents systems would be given the choice of opting out of the plan and emphasized that any deal would preclude any reduction in the number of employees over the length of the contract.

The independent review should help dispel concerns that the state won’t save the as much money as projected.

“I think it’s important to have that outside, third party validator saying those numbers are real,” Haslam told reporters.

In a joint statement, University of Tennessee President Joe DiPietro and Regents Chancellor David Gregory agreed to consider the third-party review and said that no decision has yet been made on whether to proceed with the privatization proposal.
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Outsourcing PR campaign ready; Official sees ‘disaster’ for UT

Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration is expected to roll out the public relations campaign for its massive facilities-management outsourcing plan over the next two weeks, reports Richard Locker.

It includes revised numbers purporting to show a contractor can maintain all state college campuses for up to $55 million a year less than the campuses’ existing staffs.

But a top University of Tennessee facilities services administrator said last week those numbers are based on a dramatic understatement of projected costs that exclude many of the services UT’s employees do as part of their basic operations. A contractor would be allowed to charge extra for those services, resulting in higher costs than the new estimates used to justify outsourcing.

Dave Irvin, associate vice chancellor for facilities services at UT’s Knoxville campus, said the state’s new estimates don’t include, for example, any of the work his staff does that involves planning, programming, sustainability and recycling, special events, event setups, student move-ins, much of the landscaping and grounds work, nor the existing “rapid response team” for 24-hour repair and maintenance work on request — all work that a contractor would charge additional fees to perform.

Irvin, a UT representative on an outsourcing “steering committee” with the governor’s project team, reported last week to his colleagues and a group of UT students on new savings estimates for the outsourcing plan given to the committee early this month by the governor’s team.

He also said the state team’s revised timeline calls for the state to issue a “request for qualifications,” for potential contractors to document their ability to fulfill a contract, by April 1. A request for proposals, or bids, for a 10-year contract would go out in November, contracts would be negotiated in the following months and outsourcing would start being implemented by March 2017.

Irvin told the students the latest plans given to the committee “would be a disaster for this campus. It would be a disaster for our students.”
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Anti-outsourcing, pro-diversity rally draws 300 at UTK

Around 300 people attended a rally Friday in support of the University of Tennessee, which organizers say is “under attack” from a governor who wants more privatization and a legislature that opposes diversity efforts, reports the News Sentinel.

“Our governor and our legislators show little respect for our public institutions, for the people of Tennessee and for the democracy that our state and our country promises us,” said Melanie Barron, a graduate assistant in geography and member of the UT Diversity Matters coalition. “In the coming months, as these attacks on our university intensify, let us stand together.”

The coalition co-sponsored the rally, along with United Campus Workers, UT’s Faculty Senate and the campus chapter of the American Association of University Professors. Attendees’ posters bore messages on privatization (“Tennessee is not for sale!” “Make us a Tennessee Promise: Keep Our Jobs Here”), living wages and racial and gender diversity (“Diversity Cuts Hurt Us All,” “Martin’s Dream is Forever”).

But their chants, led by UCW representative Cassie Waters, were in unison: “When our university is under attack, what do we do? Stand up! Fight back!”

Volunteers in a “phone zone” held up signs bearing contact information for legislators who have recently filed bills urging cuts to diversity and sustainability programs and funding at UT.

Waters urged attendees to call the legislators and Gov. Bill Haslam, who has proposed to outsource maintenance and management of state-owned buildings, including at the university, that’s now done by state employees. The plan would cost those workers their jobs and benefits, Waters said.

Bill allows private investment in public transportation

On a bipartisan basis, state legislators Wednesday rolled out legislation that would allow state and local governments to contract private businesses to build, oversee and profit from large-scale transit projects in Tennessee.

Further from The Tennessean:

“We’ve been talking about the problems for some time,” said Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, who has co-sponsored the bill with Sen. Jeff Yarbro, D-Nashville. “And if you drive on I-24, or drive on I-65, or come in on I-40, it’s continuing to get worse every day.

“This sends a signal to those consortiums in the private sector to come here to Tennessee and start putting your investments here for infrastructure that will take us further down the road than we’ve ever seen before.”

…Supporters say the bill to allow what are commonly called “P3s” for transit would provide “one more tool in the toolbox” to address transit.

They also claim that tapping a private company to oversee transit services would be significantly cheaper than leaving it to the government.

The public-private partnership bill has attracted rare accord among many Democrats and Republicans in the legislature.

At a Wednesday press conference to unveil the proposal, Ketron was joined by Yarbro and Rep. Charles Sargent, R-Franklin, who is the sponsor of the House version of the bill. Others at the event included Sen. Jim Tracy, R-Murfreesboro; Rep. John Ray Clemmons, D-Nashville; and Rep. Jason Powell, D-Nashville.

Franklin Mayor Ken Moore, who chairs the Middle Tennessee Mayors Caucus, Rutherford County Mayor Ernest Burgees, former Gallatin Mayor Jo Ann Graves, members of Nashville Mayor Megan Barry’s administration and representatives of the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce were also on hand.

“At the end of the day, there’s no Democratic traffic jams or Republican traffic jams,” Yarbro said. “While Sen. Ketron and I might be in different political parties, our districts include some of the busiest corridors in the state of Tennessee.

TRICOR CEO quits; sees privatizing of prison food service

Patricia Weiland will retire Feb. 8 as CEO of the Tennessee Rehabilitative Initiative in Correction, TRICOR, an organization that provides jobs for inmates and subsequently sells the goods produced by the inmates, according to a news release.

Further, from The Tennessean:

Although a news release about her retirement didn’t note specific reasons for the timing, Weiland clearly blames state lawmakers for her departure.

“Despite our many accomplishments and contributions to the taxpayers, I am compelled to do this because the recent legislative hearings have been used to lead an orchestrated campaign to misrepresent facts surrounding our audit and TRICOR as well as a personal character attack on me by some members of the general assembly,” Weiland wrote in the letter, dated Tuesday.

“After both hearings one can only conclude that select legislators are building a case in support of privatizing corrections food service to which they fear TRICOR may stand in the way.”

Weiland is referring to an audit released by the Tennessee comptroller last fall. The audit criticized numerous aspects of TRICOR leadership, especially its handling of the prison food program known as Cook Chill. The audit noted that TRICOR and the Tennessee Department of Correction never had a contract for the multimillion-dollar program, leading TRICOR to operate the program at a $4 million deficit.

…After a heated legislative hearing earlier this month, state Sen. Ken Yager, R-Kingston, essentially called on Weiland to resign.

“I don’t have any confidence in her ability to clean up this problem that has been created under her watch,” Yager said.

Weiland brushed off the comment when asked about it after the hearing, but continued her offensive on lawmakers in her retirement letter.

“I am being retaliated against for information that was presented in the audit response and shared with select legislators. I will not subject myself to further hearings where legislators are exercising an abuse of power in a public forum to intimidate me and malign my reputation, the reputation of the board of directors and that of TRICOR.”