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Committee Set To Review Haslam Administration Contracts

Committee Set To Review Haslam Administration Contracts

By Phil Williams. CREATED Jul 20, 2013

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - How has the Haslam administration spent millions of dollars of your money?

That's the question that the legislature's Fiscal Review Committee will be asking Tuesday morning following questions first raised by NewsChannel 5 Investigates.

"We're doing what we said all along, find the very best service we can get for the lowest price," Gov. Bill Haslam told reporters recently.

But the major questions center not so much on the Haslam administration's decision to outsource state government services, but on how they did it.

Take, for example, the decision to turn the state's motor pool into a WeCar program operated by Enterprise Rent A Car.

That contract was approved after Haslam's General Services Commissioner Steve Cates hired a former Enterprise executive to head the program.

The administration did not invite any other companies to bid.

Instead, they prepared documents saying they would "piggy-back" on the University of Tennessee's WeCar program. UT told NewsChannel 5 that it has never had a WeCar program.

State lawmakers were also concerned about what we discovered about the outsourcing of maintenance of other state vehicles to Bridgestone -- a company once headed by former Haslam Finance Commissioner Mark Emkes.

Documents show a key vendors conference was rescheduled at the last minute at Bridgestone's request.

Bridgestone ended up being the only bidder.

"Anytime that we are doing something like this where there is only one person or one company that says I qualify for that bid, it would cause a red flag," said Rep. Mark Pody, R-Lebanon.

Then, there's a $1 million contract that went to Jones Lang Lasalle, a corporation that candidate Bill Haslam listed among his investments.

After JLL beat out other bidders for a contract to study the state's building needs, the Haslam administration began pushing to expand the contract without any bidding.

"If we approves today's extraordinary item, that doesn't construe that that's a new policy on our part," Secretary of State Tre Hargett said at the time.

The State Building Commission reluctantly approved a contract amendment -- the first of several that expanded the contract from $1 million to a potential  $11 million.

Then, the Haslam administration began pushing to let JLL handle all lease negotiations for the state, collecting a four percent commission from any landlord who wanted to lease the state a building.

Comptroller Justin Wilson wrote in an email, "A commission to JLL at first blush seems very wrong," adding that he was "suspicious."

House Democratic Caucus Chair Mike Turner of Nashville told NewsChannel 5 Investigates: "You have raised a lot of issues that do not pass the smell test. And it's just not one. There's a serious of things going on right now in state government."

Recently, the administration awarded a $330 million contract to JLL to manage all the state's buildings -- after inviting only one other company to bid.

New emails just posted by NewsChannel 5 Investigates show that contract reviewers in the Comptroller's Office questioned why a third company wasn't invited to bid, as required under state rules.

"This is not a competitive procurement," one wrote in the margins of the proposed contract.

After this hearing was scheduled, JLL hired the House Speaker's former chief of staff to lobby those same lawmakers. Which should make this all the more interesting to watch.

Back to NC5 Investigates: Questions of Influence
NewsChannel 5 Investigates

 
Phil Williams

Phil Williams

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Phil Williams is chief investigative reporter for NewsChannel 5's nationally award-winning investigative team. His investigations have earned him journalism's highest honors.