published Thursday, June 13th, 2013

Tennessee speakers seek review of office outsourcing deal that had Haslam as one of its investors

NASHVILLE — The speakers of the state House and Senate said Thursday that they will seek a review of no-bid elements of an outsourcing deal with a real estate firm that has counted fellow Republican Gov. Bill Haslam as one of its investors.

The Haslam administration initially hired Chicago-based Jones Lang LaSalle for a $1 million contract to consult on office space issues. That deal was expanded and amended several times, and the company last month won a bid for a five-year, $38 million contract to manage all state-owned and leased properties outside of higher education.

The latest deal includes a maximum $330 million liability to the state for pass-through costs like power, ventilation, custodial work, security and other vendors.

Before his election in 2010, Haslam included Jones Lang LaSalle among the dozens of companies in which he held investments of more than $10,000. He has since placed his investments other than family-owned Pilot Flying J into a blind trust. Haslam’s office has denied the stake in the company influenced the contract.

Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, said he welcomed the move to outsource the management of state offices and rejected any claims of a potential conflict of interest for the governor.

“The governor disclosed all those investments that he had ... all that was placed into a blind trust, and I don’t know whether you can do much more than that,” he said. “Now as far as sole-source contracts, maybe there is something we can look into in that.”

House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, also stressed that she did not think anything had been done wrong, but wanted to ensure that the state could not have reached a better deal.

“Just the whole idea of sole-bidding — I think that is a legitimate concern for us to examine,” Harwell said.

Haslam spokesman David Smith said the governor welcomed the legislative leaders’ input.

“We’re already working with the two speakers’ offices to sit down with them early next week and answer any questions they have,” he said.

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