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.”
A legislative watchdog group agreed Monday to delve deeper into the state Department of Correction’s awarding of a $200 million-plus contract to handle inmate health care to a relative newcomer despite its $6.4 million higher bid, reports the Chattanooga TFP. Fiscal Review Committee members want the winner of the contract, Centurion LLC, to come before the panel in September.
Correction Department officials went before Fiscal Review for approval of their request to extend the current contract of Brentwood, Tenn.-based Corizon until Sept. 30 to provide Centurion additional time to prepare taking over the service.
While the business at hand was the 90-day extension of Corizon’s existing contract, committee members devoted most of their time questioning Centurion’s winning of the new three-year contract.
Corizon, which had the existing contract, lost the competition to Centurion on the new three-year contract. Corizon protested but two state panels upheld the award to Centurion, the most recent coming in a June 6 ruling.
Recently, Correction Department officials said, Corizon indicated it would not push the protest further by going to court.
Lawmakers criticized the request-for-proposal process and raised concerns about the higher cost and what they see as the recently created Centurion’s relative lack of experience.
Rep. Tim Wirgau, R-Buchanan, said it raises “red flags” for him.
“Give me some reasons why you decided to spend $6.4 million more,” he told Wes Landers, chief financial officer for the Correction Department.
Rep. Jeremy Faison, R-Cosby, was highly critical of Centurion’s experience.
“That seems a little shady there,” Faison said, adding that the state either had standards or not in awarding points in the request-for-proposal process for experience.
In remarks both during the committee and afterward, Wes Landers, the Correction Department’s chief financial officer, defended the decision to go with Centurion.
Nichole “Nikki” Goesner first appeared on the Tennessee political stage during the 2009 debate over “guns in bars” legislation, invited by a state senator to tell the story of how her husband was killed in cold blood as she watched and how she has wished ever since that she had a pistol in her purse on that night.
“Had I not been disarmed, I could have had a chance to save Ben,” she writes as she retells the story in the recently published book “Denied a Chance: How Gun Control Helped a Stalker Murder My Husband.”
In her mind, Goesner writes, she constantly replayed scenarios in which she would have acted differently if the .38 she was licensed to carry had been with her. It was left in her car because state law at the time forbade carrying a gun into a restaurant where alcohol was served.
She was there to help her husband, as a second job in the evenings, run a karaoke operation. He was setting up the equipment when she spotted the man who had been stalking her, she writes, and asked the manager to evict him. The manager was talking with him when the man turned, unzipped his jacket, pulled a .45 from underneath his coat and shot her husband, who fell on the first blast and then was shot another five times.
Some teachers may think they’ve lived through a roller coaster of educational changes in recent years reports Kevin Hardy in a Tennessee education reform review. But they haven’t seen anything yet.
An excerpt: Already, classroom standards are more rigorous. Evaluations are tougher and more regular. And accountability is no longer a catch phrase, but a component of many parts of a teacher’s career.
On Friday, the Tennessee School Board opened the door for teacher pay schemes that link salary to performance. And state officials rolled out plans that will make it tougher to become a teacher and harder to stay in for the long haul.
State officials argue that collectively the changes will aid their quest to get more Tennessee students to meet academic standards and thus help build a more competitive workforce. And to do that, officials say, teachers need to be put under the microscope. Their performance must measure up.
Last week’s action by the state board was just the latest in a host of reforms redefining what Tennessee expects of students and teachers.
The board approved a new minimum pay schedule that de-emphasizes a teacher’s education level and years of experience, and passed a rule requiring every district to develop some kind of differentiated pay plan. Districts could decide to pay more for higher test scores, or give more to teachers in hard-to-staff schools, or even offer more money based on the subjects or grade levels they teach, depending on local plans.
But Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman wants to go even further. In addition to stiffer requirements for first-year teachers, he wants to make license renewal dependent on a teacher’s performance, as determined by an evaluation and student test score data. The board approved a first reading of that policy; another reading is needed for final passage.
While monumental themselves, the changes enacted and unveiled last week are just pieces of a larger reform movement, based on Huffman’s premise that education practices of the past must change to have real improvement in student performance.
The state in recent years has revamped the teacher pension system, quashed collective bargaining rights, made it tougher to achieve tenure and tied teacher evaluations to student test scores.
Altogether, the changes lay out a new vision for Tennessee education, one that eliminates some of the guaranteed stability long enjoyed by teachers and treats them more like private-sector professionals.
And that’s a sea change that states like Tennessee are leading, said Sandi Jacobs, state policy director at the National Council on Teacher Quality, a nonpartisan research and policy group that advocates for education reform.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee election officials plan to review a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that says states can’t demand proof of citizenship from people registering to vote in federal elections unless they get federal or court approval to do so.
The justices’ 7-2 ruling on Monday complicates efforts in Arizona and other states to bar voting by people who are in the country illegally.
Tennessee passed a law about two years ago that allows state election officials to purge noncitizen residents from election rolls.
Anyone listed as a noncitizen and registered to vote has 30 days to present proof of citizenship or be purged from the rolls.
Secretary of State spokesman Blake Fontenay told The Associated Press on Monday that election officials hadn’t seen the high court ruling, but planned to review it to see if it affects Tennessee.
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.
House Speaker Beth Harwell and Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey said Thursday a legislative committee should look into the handling of a multimillion dollar state contract with a Chicago-based firm that once counted Gov. Bill Haslam among its investors.
But they also said they believe there was no wrongdoing in the contract with Jones Lang LaSalle or two other contracts negotiated by the Haslam administration to outsource to private businesses work formerly done by state employees.
“Just the whole idea of sole-bidding, I think that’s a legitimate concern for us to examine,” said Harwell. “I do not believe anything has been done wrong, but (a review by legislative committees) is appropriate.”
Ramsey also said he supports having the Fiscal Review Committee, a joint House-Senate panel tasked with oversight of state spending, study the contracts. The panel tentatively plans to do so at a meeting next month.
Yet the Senate speaker, who also serves as lieutenant governor, was adamant in voicing confidence that no misdeeds occurred in contracts negotiated through the state Department of General Services, headed by Commissioner Steve Cates.
“I don’t believe this department has ever been run any better than it is right now,” Ramsey said. “I don’t think anything was done that was illegal and I don’t think that anything was done that was unethical.”
State Comptroller Justin Wilson said his office will be looking into “procedures” involved in the contract “to see whether or not they need to be modified or changed in any way.”
As initially reported by WTVF-TV, Jones Lang LaSalle initially won a $1 million consulting contract, competitively bid, to make a review of state-owned buildings and leases of property with recommendations for an office space “master plan.” That contract was subsequently expanded in stages to authorize up to $11 million in state payments.
The resulting master plan calls for the state to dispose of six buildings deemed “functionally obsolete,” for outsourcing of jobs now performed by Department of General Services employees and for leasing of more office space for state workers in Nashville, Chattanooga and Memphis. It is called “Project T3” or “Transforming Tennessee for Tomorrow” and officials project it will save the state $135 million over the next decade.
Earlier this year, Jones Lang LaSalle won a second contract for management of office leasing for the state that is valued at up to $330 million, including pass-through costs such as utility and maintenance payments. The company stands to receive up to $38 million.
Also under one of the contract amendments, the company will act as the state’s broker for the new leased office space to replace the six buildings being abandoned. The firm will receive a 4 percent commission from the buildings’ owners based on the total gross rental fees the state pays over the coming 10 years.
In 2010 while running for governor, Haslam included JLL among a list of companies in which he had invested more than $10,000. He has refused to disclose the amount of any of those investments and, after his election, most of his investments — an exception being the governor’s stake in Pilot Flying J — were placed in a blind trust.
“He doesn’t know what went into the blind trust. He doesn’t know what’s in it,” gubernatorial spokesman David Smith said. “If someone is suggesting that Jones Lang LaSalle got this contract because the governor had a previous investment in it, that’s absolutely untrue.”
WTVF reported Haslam hosted top JLL executives for dinner at the governor’s residence on April 24, 2012, including former NFL star quarterback Roger Staubach and Herman Bulls, CEO of the company’s public institutions division. Also attending were Cates, Herbert Slatery, the governor’s legal counsel; and Mark Cate, the governor’s chief of staff.
Three months later, Cate joined Bulls and other JLL executives in a presentation to the State Building Commission that led to approval of contract amendments by the panel.
Harwell and Ramsey are members of the Building Commission and commented to reporters after a meeting of the five-member panel Thursday on other matters.
Ramsey said that Haslam, like anyone coming into government, would naturally have interests that could become a conflict. The governor handled that appropriately by putting his interests in a blind trust, said Ramsey.
“I don’t know that you could do anything more than that,” he said.
Ramsey acknowledged, in response to a question, that JLL could have an incentive for negotiating higher rental fees for the state since that would mean higher commissions for the company.
House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner of Nashville told reporters he plans to write Harwell a letter asking that the Government Operations Committee be assigned to investigate the JLL contract and others.
Harwell said she had not received the letter, but believes the Fiscal Review Committee is the “most appropriate” vehicle for reviewing the contracts.
The Department of General Services has also negotiated a contract with Bridgestone/Firestone for outsourcing maintenance and repair of state-owned vehicles and a contract with Enterprise Rent-a-Car for providing rental vehicles to state employees. The latter contract came without competitive bidding and with a former Enterprise executive hired by Cates to oversee the department’s motor vehicles division.
Davidson County Election Administrator Albert Tieche survived to work another day after enduring sometimes testy questioning by his bosses, who took a scathing state review to heart but decided not to discipline him after a nearly five-hour meeting on Friday, according to The Tennessean. Tieche still could face a tough road if state Elections Coordinator Mark Goins, the author of the draft review, moves to decertify him once Goins presents his final report to state election commissioners next month. Through a spokesman, Goins declined to comment Friday night.
The five Davidson County election commissioners decided to respond to Goins’ review in the way that Metro attorneys advised — by acknowledging about a dozen errors and issues and succinctly saying how they’d try to avoid repeating them. They did not adopt Tieche’s much longer, more personal and sometimes feisty response to Goins, though the administrator and his own attorney, Art McClellan, said they might still submit it to the state.
Ron Buchanan, the election commission’s chairman and one of four new members, said any decisions about Tieche’s future would come later. Buchanan and other election commissioners dodged questions about their confidence in Tieche’s ability to conduct fair elections.
“There’s going to have to be some mending of fences and changes of procedures to restore voter confidence,” said Buchanan, a Republican.
“We’re going to move forward,” said A.J. Starling, a Democrat.
In a document longer than the review that prompted it, Tieche contested virtually every charge made by Goins. He wrote that the review “focuses on fault and blame rather than fostering improvement.”
“A casual review of the draft report would cause one to conclude that it is written to be personal in nature.”
For example, where Goins said the election commission’s use of faulty technology in some precincts in the August primary was “shocking” and that it could have influenced the outcomes of two House races, Tieche took offense at the use of that term and said there were just 106 voter history errors out of more than 12,000 votes cast with the technology.
Tieche also said that he took “great exception” to Goins’ claim that disciplinary actions against employees who talked to state investigators in late January had been backdated to December so they wouldn’t appear retaliatory. “That is a direct attack on my character,” he said.
Sunshine Review, a national nonprofit organization that declares itself dedicated to state and local government transparency, has released a 2013 Transparency Report Card grading every state and the largest counties, cities and school districts within each state on the availability of information on government websites.
Government websites were graded “A” to “F” measuring available content available against a checklist of information all governments should provide to citizens.
Tennessee gets a grade ‘B’ overall and ranked 24th in the nation. Tennessee’s graded counties got a ‘B-‘ and cities a ‘C+’.
The full report is HERE. H/T Mike Donila, who posts some commentary on Knoxville and Knox County ratings.