Cor­rup­tion 101 and Ten­nessee Gov­er­nor Bill Haslam

Trillions - - Contents -

A bat­tle in­volv­ing Ten­nessee’s pub­lic work­ers, its Repub­li­can gov­er­nor and the for­mer chan­cel­lor of the Uni­ver­sity of Ten­nessee-knoxville is pro­vid­ing us all with a mas­ter class in how cor­rup­tion works in ac­tion.

The leader of all of this is Bill Haslam, the Pi­lot Fly­ing J truck stop bil­lion­aire Repub­li­can gov­er­nor of Ten­nessee.

He has been on a cam­paign to shake up the pub­lic em­ploy­ment sys­tem in the state through un­usual means. To do this, he brought in Jones Lang Lasalle (JLL), the big­gest fa­cil­i­ties man­age­ment firm in the world, on a no-bid, sole-source con­tract to pri­va­tize what are lit­er­ally thou­sands of fa­cil­i­ties and man­age­ment po­si­tions at all pub­lic build­ings in the state. The con­tract was ne­go­ti­ated just by bring­ing in JLL, let­ting it de­fine what the con­tract needed to be and then let­ting it name its price. JLL was given a five-year, $330 mil­lion con­tract to carry out the pri­va­ti­za­tion and do the re­quired work.

This was all done un­der a process called “vested out­sourc­ing,” but it still amounts to an enor­mous sole­source con­tract no mat­ter which govern­ment might be pay­ing the bill.

As for why JLL might have been se­lected, one ob­vi­ous thing that Haslam re­vealed pub­licly while he ran for gov­er­nor is that he had a ma­jor in­vest­ment in JLL at one time. That in­vest­ment was put in a blind trust, and Haslam has claimed he does not know if the trust ben­e­fited from this deal or not. But how could it not?

The pri­va­ti­za­tion plan was also a con­ve­nient way to get rid of union­ized work­ers through­out the pub­lic em­ploy­ment sys­tem in the state – es­pe­cially at the Uni­ver­sity of Ten­nessee’s (UT) cam­puses.

To make that even eas­ier, Haslam lever­aged an­other coup when the UT FO­CUS Act was ap­proved in April 2018. This put in place a re­struc­tur­ing of the UT’S Board of Trustees, cut­ting the num­ber of peo­ple on the board from 27 to 11. It also gave the of­fice of the gov­er­nor the au­thor­ity to ap­point ev­ery mem­ber of the board, on stag­gered, over­lap­ping terms.

With that bill passed, Haslam quickly moved to con­sol­i­date his power by nam­ing nom­i­nees for the new board. Half of the nom­i­nees were Haslam donors, so one can safely as­sume they have a de­gree of strong loy­alty for what he wants to do with the board. John Comp­ton, one nom­i­nee, used to be CEO at Pi­lot Fly­ing J, the truck-stop chain across the United States that made Haslam a wealthy man and was pros­e­cuted for mas­sive fraud. Of the seven CEOS nom­i­nated in this batch, Raja Jubran just hap­pened to be the most vo­cal backer for the JLL pri­va­ti­za­tion plan pushed through by the pre­vi­ous board. Two other lob­by­ists, Melvin Malone and Brad Lam­p­ley, were also nom­i­nated.

As of this writ­ing, six of the 11 vot­ing mem­bers of this board have been con­firmed.

This board will have as one of its big­gest tasks that of ad­dress­ing how best to make use of that $330 mil­lion con­tract the state has with JLL. Many of these ap­pointees said in their con­fir­ma­tion re­views that they would op­pose out­sourc­ing, but it seems like this may have been for po­lit­i­cal pos­tur­ing more than any­thing else. Part of why is that prior to the new ap­point­ments, Haslam al­ready had just about ev­ery part of the UT school sys­tem lined up with his plan – ex­cept for the Ut-knoxville cam­pus, the flag­ship of the state uni­ver­sity sys­tem.

The per­son be­hind the re­sis­tance at Ut-knoxville was its chan­cel­lor, Bev­erly Daven­port. A for­mer pro­fes­sor at the school, Daven­port was voted in unan­i­mously by the pre­vi­ous board in De­cem­ber 2016. On Oc­to­ber 31,

2017, she an­nounced that Ut-knoxville would not be a part of the pro­posed out­sourc­ing plan Haslam was at­tempt­ing to ram through. She did so as an ad­vo­cate for the work­ers who were al­ready there on cam­pus and who had loy­ally and ef­fec­tively served the state for some time. This in­cluded the United Cam­pus Work­ers, the lead union for fa­cil­i­ties em­ploy­ees at Ten­nessee col­leges, plus fac­ulty and other staff.

On May 2, not long af­ter Haslam had been given the gift of the UT FO­CUS Act, UT pres­i­dent Joe Dip­i­etro an­nounced that Ut-knoxville chan­cel­lor Daven­port had been fired, ef­fec­tive July 1. In his an­nounce­ment about the dis­missal, Dip­i­etro noted “nu­mer­ous ar­eas of un­sat­is­fac­tory per­for­mance.” Oth­ers were told that Daven­port had var­i­ous “com­mu­ni­ca­tions prob­lems.”the irony of this move is that Daven­port is be­ing de­moted to the po­si­tion of pro­fes­sor of com­mu­ni­ca­tions de­spite the crit­i­cism of her abil­ity to com­mu­ni­cate. She will be okay – for a while – and will be get­ting a whop­ping salary of $439,000 a year.

For those won­der­ing if Dip­i­etro might at­tempt to chal­lenge Haslam and the new UT board in any way, that is un­likely. Dip­i­etro was al­ready ru­mored to be ready­ing him­self to leave the UT sys­tem. When he goes, Haslam and his hand-picked board will have free rein to select who­ever they want for the role – and to carry out the rest of what­ever else Haslam has planned for the UT or­ga­ni­za­tion.

Time will tell if the new regime is an im­prove­ment over the pre­vi­ous sys­tem or if it is just the usual sce­nario of crim­i­nal politi­cians loot­ing pub­lic as­sets for their them­selves and their spon­sors.

Photo by Grag­ghia CC

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