Tag Archives: state

AG says state can run vehicle testing program in Shelby County

An attorney general’s opinion says the state has authority to set up a vehicle emissions testing program in Shelby County and charge motorists a fee to pay for it, reports the Commercial Appeal.
But the opinion says the state probably could not impose a countywide fee to pay for vehicle testing only in the City of Memphis, as it suggests was being considered by state officials.
Atty. Gen. Robert E. Cooper’s advisory opinion comes after Memphis ended its vehicle inspection program Friday.
The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation is “looking at all options” for a new inspection program in the Memphis area to keep the state in compliance with federal air pollution laws, TDEC spokeswoman Meg Lockhart said after the opinion’s public release Tuesday.
“But we are hopeful that the local air program will meet its obligation to have a vehicle inspection program as previously committed to both the state and to EPA that they would do.”
Memphis was the only one of Tennessee’s major urban areas with vehicle emissions testing where the inspections were limited only to residents of the central city. The testing programs are countywide in Davidson, Hamilton, Rutherford, Sumner, Williamson and Wilson counties.

Payday loan firm avoids taxes after buying building from state

A prominent business owner and political fundraiser has not paid property taxes on his corporate headquarters in at least eight years, reports WTVF-TV.
Garry McNabb is the CEO and owner of Cash Express LLC, which has locations across the South. He has contributed tens of thousands of dollars to democratic and republican candidates. The corporate office of Cash Express LLC. is in Cookeville.
But Putnam County property records have listed the office building as being owned by the state of Tennessee — which is exempt from all property taxes.
No one has paid property taxes on the building since McNabb and three others bought it in 2004.
NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked McNabb “Why haven’t you paid property taxes on that property?”
McNabb responded, “Because the state has never sent me a bill.”
The property deed shows McNabb and others bought the building, which used to be an unemployment office, from the state of Tennessee.
But neither McNabb nor his partners registered the deed, so the building kept appearing on the tax rolls as state property.

‘Guns in parking lots’ and bunch of other legislation took effect today as new laws

By Lucas Johnson, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A measure that allows people with handgun carry permits to store firearms in their vehicles no matter where they are parked is among a number of new state laws that take effect Monday.
The gun law will go into effect despite questions about what it means for employment law in Tennessee — the measure allows workers to store guns in cars while parked in their employers’ parking lots.
The state attorney general said in a legal opinion released in May that under the law, employers would still be allowed to fire workers who violate gun bans.
Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey disagreed with the opinion, saying in a statement that the “General Assembly created a clear statutory right allowing permit holders to lawfully keep a firearm stored in their car while at work.”
“Any employer explicitly terminating a permit holder for keeping a gun locked in his car would violate the state’s clear public policy, opening himself or herself up to legal action,” the Blountville Republican said.
Other measures taking effect include a law that allows school districts to let people with police training be armed in schools, and one that would require incoming students at public higher education institutions to show proof they’ve had meningitis shots.
(Note: Full list of laws taking effect today is HERE.)

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Judge Lets Layoffs of State Workers Proceed

Gov. Bill Haslam is readying plans to lay off about 200 state workers by week’s end after a state judge on Monday lifted her temporary injunction on the planned firings, reports the Chattanooga Times-Free Press.
Ruling from the bench, Circuit Court Judge Amanda McClendon said state officials did not break any laws in their handling of the firings because they had no legal duty to help employees find new jobs within state government.
The judge also found no irreparable harm was done when the state froze hiring for weeks in the midst of a 60-day layoff period in May and June when officials took down their NeoGov online listings for available jobs.
Haslam’s legal counsel, Herbert Slatery, later said the administration is “generally pleased” with McClendon’s ruling lifting of the temporary restraining order she signed June 10 after the Tennessee State Employees Association and a group of 15 employees filed suit.
The Human Resources Department said the filled positions in eight departments will be “effective and off the books by the end of the week.”
The state had intended to lay off some 70 state Labor and Workforce Development employees and others June 18 and 19.
Friday is the last work day for dozens of General Services workers in Chattanooga, Nashville and other parts of the state. The state is outsourcing management and maintenance of all state-owned buildings.
Jones Lang LaSalle, the real estate services firm taking over the oversight of state buildings on July 1, hired only 31 of 126 employees, according to one state filing. Another 10 employees found other positions within state government. Some are retiring
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Haslam Looking to More Privatizing

Despite a controversy over his outsourcing of state building operations, Republican Gov. Bill Haslam says he intends to continue privatizing state government operations where he believes it is practical, reports the Chattanooga TFP.
“I think our job is to deliver the very best service at the lowest price, and I’ve said that from the very beginning,” Haslam said last week, adding, “I think particularly this case with the real estate space is a great example of that.”
Haslam was referring to a contract with Chicago-based real estate services firm Jones Lang LaSalle to manage state office space.
…State employees and their representatives, meanwhile, argue that in at least some outsourcing ventures, the promised savings don’t materialize.
“As far as I know, state employees were doing a good job managing the buildings,” said Robert O’Connell, executive director of the Tennessee State Employees Association.
What employees “think we’re seeing here is an execution of a certain political philosophy” of privatization wherever possible of even “appropriate” public functions, O’Connell said.
Haslam said outsourcing state functions where it makes sense is one of several strategies his administration is using to keep government costs down.
“Right now we’re in a good revenue period, and the revenue’s always exceeding [estimates],” he said. “That doesn’t always last. When it doesn’t, we’re going to have to provide for that. This is a direct result of the top-to-bottom [reviews of state functions]” Haslam ordered after taking office.
The reviews have resulted in any number of cost-cutting measures and elimination of some state services.
Haslam argues the reviews don’t always lead to trimmed or eliminated programs, job cuts or privatization.
“There’s other things we’re taking back” from private vendors, Haslam said.
“I was talking to a highway contractor the other day who’s kind of mad about some things we used to let private contractors do that we’re bringing back in house” at the Department of Transportation.

Judge Keeps State Employee Layoffs on Hold for Another Week

Dozens of state employees who faced being fired this week by Gov. Bill Haslam will hold on to their jobs until at least next week after a Nashville judge on Monday granted a one-week extension of her temporary restraining order, reports Andy Sher.
Circuit Court Judge Amanda McClendon said she was not ready to render a decision in the challenge brought by the Tennessee State Employees Association but expects to rule on the case this coming Monday.
The move came after 90 minutes of spirited arguments and a flurry of court filings by attorneys for the state employees group and the Tennessee Attorney General’s Office over whether the Haslam administration did or didn’t violate state law in the layoff process.
State employees’ attorney Larry Woods argued administration officials didn’t follow state law in plans to lay off more than 200 workers because they froze hiring for other positions during the 60-day notice period and on May 9 shut down the state’s NeoGov website, which lists available state job openings.
That was 20 days into the layoff notice for dozens of employees and about a week into it for more than 100 others. It will be back online Wednesday.
That’s too late for some workers whose jobs end today or Wednesday, according to the state employees’ group.
Woods said the 2012 Tennessee Excellence, Accountability and Management Act requires job counseling and opportunities to find other jobs within state government during the entire 60-day period.
But Leslie Bridges, senior counsel in the state attorney general’s office, countered the issue “really boils down” to whether the state even has to have job openings and said “the answer is no.”
The NeoGov website, Bridges said, had to be taken down and hiring frozen while new salary schedules were implemented in the state’s Edison payroll system for 37,000 employees.

Legislators May Eye Jones Lang LaSalle Dealings

A Democratic legislative leader said Tuesday he will ask legislative committees to review a five-year $330 million contract with the Chicago-based multinational consulting firm Jones Lang LaSalle , reports the Commercial Appeal.
Gov. Bill Haslam disclosed an investment in the company while running for governor in 2010, but not the amount of that investment. He now has most of his investments — except for Pilot Flying J — in a blind trust.
Jones Lang LaSalle is the firm that last year recommended the state move out of its 43-year-old Donnelley J. Hill State Office Building in Downtown Memphis and five other state-owned buildings in Nashville and Chattanooga because it said they are “functionally obsolete.” JLL is helping the state find 100,000 square feet of leased office space Downtown where employees of 12 agencies and departments currently working in the Hill Building would move.
The state’s involvement with JLL has come under increasing scrutiny since its initial $1 million contract has grown to $4.5 million to $7.6 million and it won a new contact that pays Jones Lang LaSalle about $38 million over five years for management and labor for managing state buildings. It has a maximum liability to the state of $330 million, which includes costs that JLL will pay on a pass-through basis from the state, such as electrical, ventilating, janitorial, security and landscaping vendors with no markup in costs, the Department of General Servicers said.
JLL is essentially assuming responsibility for an ambitious Haslam administration plan to consolidate as much state office space as possible called “Project T3” for “Transforming Tennessee for Tomorrow,” which state officials believe will save taxpayers over $135 million during the next 10 years
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Note: See also the Chattanooga Times-Free Press. Excerpt:
(Gubernatorial spokesman) David Smith said Tuesday the governor himself is unaware whether he still has any investment and wouldn’t be swayed even if he did.
“That’s the whole point of a blind trust,” Smith said, adding, “This is a project that is slated to save the state millions of dollars and it’s good government.”

Personal Relationships a ‘Common Thread’ in State Contracts?

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.

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Haslam Invested in Company Winning $330M State Contract

At least at one point, Gov. Bill Haslam was an investor in a company that has landed a $330 million contract to manage state buildings under a new outsourcing plan put into place under the Haslam administration’s leadership, reports WTVF-TV.
The Haslam administration insisted that the contract is about saving taxpayer money, not about making the governor richer.
But our investigation discovered the governor’s office was directly involved in the decision to give hundreds of millions of dollars of your money to a corporation he knew well.
Recently, the state signed a $330 million, five-year contract with a multinational corporation, Jones Lang Lasalle, to manage all of the state’s buildings. It’s a company that, our investigation discovered, candidate Bill Haslam listed among his major investments.
“The fact that he was invested in this company that got this contract is disturbing if he’s still invested in it,” said House Democratic Caucus Chair Mike Turner of Nashville.
…The governor’s office said that they don’t know if JLL is still among the investments that Haslam put into a blind trust.
“Even the fact that he was invested at one time, there was a relationship there,” Turner added.
The Haslam administration insisted the contract was awarded through an above-board, competitive process with no political influence.
Still, our investigation discovered that the selection committee was composed of procurement officer Mike Perry and two members of Haslam’s own team: chief of staff and former campaign manager Mark Cate and special assistant to the governor Larry Martin.
…A photo taken during that process — at an intimate dinner on April 24, 2012, at the Governor’s Residence — shows Haslam with JLL executives, including former quarterback Roger Staubach. Also present were Commissioner Cates and Mark Cate, who would eventually serve on the selection committee for the big facilities management contract.
…Just three weeks after that dinner at the Governor’s Residence, the Haslam administration began lobbying the State Building Commission for an amendment that expanded JLL’s consulting contract from $1 million to $4.5 million.
The administration wanted JLL to supervise efforts to modernize state offices — a program known as Transforming Tennessee for Tomorrow (T3) — as well as analyze requests for future building projects.
Emails show the lobbying of the commission was done by the governor’s legal counsel and Mark Cate.
…But, six months later, the commission approved increasing that $4.5 million to $6.5 million. Four months after that, the Commission approved increasing that contract to almost $11 million — again, without any bidding.
“It’s a good deal if you get it, I think,” (House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike) Turner said. “If it’s not a sweetheart deal, it’s the closest thing to it. They’ve pretty much wrote their own check.”
And, in the middle of all that, our investigation discovered, the Haslam administration decided to take all lease negotiations out of the hands of career state employees.
So they amended JLL’s ┬ácontract again, this time giving the company the right to demand a 4 percent commission from anyone who wanted to lease the state a building.
Now, as a result of JLL’s recommendation that certain state buildings – like the Cordell Hull – be demolished, the company stands to make commissions on new leases it is negotiating.

Judge Blocks Haslam’s Move to Lay Off 200 State Employees

A Nashville judge issued a restraining order Monday against Gov. Bill Haslam’s plan to lay off more than 200 state workers this month, acting on a lawsuit filed by state employees.
From Andy Sher’s report:
The suit charges top state officials violated provisions in law surrounding a 60-day notice for affected employees.
Circuit Court Judge Amanda McClendon granted employees’ request for a restraining order and has scheduled a hearing for this coming Monday in the case, said attorney Larry Woods, who is representing the Tennessee State Employees Association and a group of individual state workers, including several from Hamilton County.
TSEA Executive Director Robert O’Connell said the suit was filed with “great reluctance” after last-minute meetings with state officials, including Human Resources Commissioner Rebecca Hunter, failed to produce results.
Contacted Monday night, Haslam Communications Director Alexia Poe said by email “it wouldn’t be appropriate for us to comment on potential/pending litigation.”
While the state provided the notices throughout April, officials did not comply with a section that says soon-to-be-fired employees be given “career counseling, job testing, and placement efforts,” the suit says.
That’s because the state’s Department of Human Resources on May 9 took down the agency’s Neogov online service that employees must use to find job openings and apply for them, according to state employees.
Hiring is now frozen and the site doesn’t come back up until June 19 — a day after 72 state Labor and Workforce Development workers are slated to lose their jobs following notices provided April 19.
Another 126 employees in the Department of General Services were given notice on April 25 that they were losing their jobs on June 28. The state is outsourcing management and maintenance of state office buildings to Chicago-based Jones Lang LaSalle, a real estate services firm.
Woods said the suit seeks to enjoin the Haslam administration from dismissing or terminating any state employees in the current reduction-in-force actions “unless they receive 60 days of career counseling, job testing and placement” services.
The suit says Haslam, Hunter, who is a former Hamilton County personnel director, and other state officials are running afoul of protections lawmakers inserted in Haslam’s own 2012 civil service overhaul.
The state employees’ group initially opposed the legislation, saying it would wreck protections and open the way to political patronage. But TSEA’s O’Connell said the group accepted the bill after lawmakers inserted protections including the 60-day notice and the chance to move elsewhere within state government.


Note: News release from TSEA is below.

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