NASHVILLE — As the Tennessee General Assembly prepares to relocate this fall to new digs at a renovated Cordell Hull State Office Building, legislative leaders are looking to become masters of their own space.
Among other things, they may decide not to use Gov. Bill Haslam's favorite real estate management-services provider, Chicago-based Jones Lang LaSalle, for janitorial, maintenance and other work.
Senate Speaker Randy McNally and House Speaker Beth Harwell confirmed to the Times Free Press that JLL has no automatic lock on a contract for services at the 1950s-era Cordell Hull building when a $116 million renovation is complete. Cordell Hull was a congressman who was President Franklin Roosevelt's secretary of state during World War II.
"We have decided to put it out for bid, and of course, they can bid and other companies might bid," McNally said. "But we're looking, you know, for the best deal we can get."
In a statement, Harwell said that as "a different branch of government moving into a brand new building, we want to ensure we look at all qualified vendors, getting the best value and service possible."
JLL has a contract with Haslam's Department of General Services to manages 10 percent of Tennessee's buildings, including its largest office buildings. That includes Legislative Plaza and the War Memorial Building, where the state's 33 senators, 99 representatives and many staff have had offices and committee hearing rooms for decades.
A number of state workers lost their jobs there when JLL came in. And some lawmakers remain unhappy over that and other issues.
In June, the Haslam administration and JLL signed a competitively bid, five-year facilities management outsourcing contract that strongly encourages remaining state agencies and all of higher education to contract with JLL.
It covers more than 7,500 state-owned properties totalling nearly 100 million square feet.
The move generated intense criticism from some Tennessee lawmakers. But Haslam, a big fan of outsourcing, says Tennessee needs to squeeze every penny it can from its operations. Before he become governor and put his holdings in a blind trust, Haslam held stock in JLL.
In late April, 75 of the 132 senators and representatives signed a letter to Haslam's outsourcing czar, Terry Cowles calling for a delay on the latest JLL contract, and pointedly sent a copy to Haslam. Lawmakers were unhappy about how state workers would be treated, among other issues.
One of the signers was Sen. Janice Bowling, R-Tullahoma, a persistent critic of the administration's outsourcing.
Bowling said she thought JLL would not be managing facilities at Cordell Hull.
"I don't know if it's going to be a bid or an RFP (request for proposal)," the senator said. "If it's an RFP, I don't think they're going to be used."
McNally said the company would not be excluded.
Connie Ridley, director of Legislative Administration, said the executive branch for years has handled facilities management for the legislative and judicial branches.
"We have always wanted to be able to craft our own contract, as opposed to somebody else's contract to manage some of the functions for the facilities that we're in," Ridley said. "It makes it a little bit difficult sometimes if the contract is not ours where we really don't have any control over it."
When the General Assembly is in session, lawmakers may work late into the evening, Ridley said, whereas most agencies and services work from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
An overflowing toilet or a burst pipe can be a problem, Ridley explained.
"We've made the decision that we would like to build that contract and put it out for bid, which means that it could be JLL, I can't tell you that it won't be," Ridley said. "It depends on who submits the best proposal for us that can meet the needs that we have for that particular building."
Tom Foster, JLL's executive vice president and account director for its contract with the state, said in a statement the company "respects the General Assembly's ability to choose."
"If proposals for Cordell Hull are requested, we would be happy to share JLL's track record of remarkable service improvements and financial savings, which includes savings of more than $40 million for Tennessee taxpayers through the first four years of our contract," Foster added.
Haslam's press office did not respond to a Times Free Press request for comment.
Ironically, the General Assembly might not be moving into the Cordell Hull building if not for JLL. The company's first job for Tennessee was looking at major office building and making recommendations.
The company deemed six buildings not worth spending a lot of money to fix, including Cordell Hull and the Chattanooga State Office Building and James R. Mapp Building in Chattanooga. Those two buildings were given to the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
Tthe Haslam administration decided to tear down Cordell Hull, sending historians, preservationists, local legislators and others into a rage over the possibility of losing the 350,000-square-foot limestone building with its rose-colored marble interiors.
Work on the project includes demolition of the adjoining Central Services Building, which will be replaced by a parking garage, and a new tunnel connecting Cordell Hull to the nearby Capitol.
Other work has involved adding new hearing rooms, said General Services spokesman David Roberson in an email.
Contact Andy Sher at email@example.com or 615-255-0550. Follow on twitter @AndySher1.