CLEVELAND, Tenn. — A proposal to lease office space in the new Bradley County workhouse ran into a snag Monday night when a second, unexpected bid was announced at the county commission agenda session.
The second bidder, though, said he's less interested in actually moving into the 2,500-square-foot space than in making a point about whether a lease would give an edge to a private company.
"I mainly want to use this as an opportunity to point out, do we really want to be renting out space in a government building to someone who would directly benefit?" attorney Andrew B. Morgan said Tuesday. He also faulted the public notices system governments use to acquire or dispose of goods and services as opaque.
The initial proposal was a five-year lease with Tennessee Recovery and Monitoring, which provides electronic monitoring such as ankle bracelets, drug and alcohol testing and steering-wheel locks for people on probation. The company would pay $15,000 a year in Year 1, and would pay to finish out the interior of the space. The rent would be $24,000 a year in the next four years.
But at the commission's Finance Committee meeting Monday afternoon, several commissioners voiced concerns that such a lease would give TRM an advantage over other firms offering similar services.
Even though the company doesn't have any kind of contract with Bradley County to monitor misdemeanor offenders, "they're the only guy in town that's going to be able to do this on the spur of the moment" by having a presence right there at the county jail, Commissioner Thomas Crye said.
Others noted that TRM is owned by the same man who owns Cumberland Bail Bonds, which employs Sheriff Eric Watson's wife as a bonding agent. They wanted assurances that no bonding would be done in the offices and there would be no signs advertising the bonding firm.
County Misdemeanor Probation Director Rich Keinlen, who spearheaded efforts to get the office space occupied, said that wouldn't be an issue, and County Attorney Crystal Freiburg said such guarantees could be written into the lease.
Later Monday, when commissioners were about to vote whether to place the lease on the agenda, Commissioner Dan Rawls offered a substitute motion with what he said was a "better offer."
"Our due diligence would be to do what's best for the county," Rawls said. He asked for a seven-day delay, which his colleagues voted to approve.
On Tuesday, Morgan said he was trying to make two points: Limited public notice that the space was available — such notices usually appear only deep in the classified section of the local newspaper — and government essentially giving an advantage to a private company.
"It's nothing against the people who put the bid in," he said. But having set a precedent, does that mean the county should offer up empty offices in the Bradley County Courthouse for private lease?
"Once we start this where do we stop? ... Why aren't we using it for some other purpose?" he asked, such as a nonprofit or other governmental office.
TRM Vice President Scott Cranmore said the company was invited to lease the space after the county decided it couldn't afford to finish out the office interior.
He said there's no issue of unfair advantage because no other company is in the local market.
"There is no direct or indirect competition in Bradley County for Tennessee Recovery and Monitoring," Cranmore said. His firm and Cumberland Bail Bonds are separate companies owned by the same man, Andy Baggenstoss.
Cranmore said a drug-testing lab will help battle the opioid epidemic and the company's electronic monitoring services will help manage the misdemeanor probation workload at lower cost than keeping people in jail.
And one potential upside to Morgan's bid from the blue: Cranmore said the county set the original price for the five-year lease, and TRM agreed to it.
Now that someone else has upped the bid, he said, "We will be submitting a quote we are willing to lease the building for and we will be there Monday" for the next phase of discussion.
Contact staff writer Judy Walton at firstname.lastname@example.org and 423-757-6416.