Outsourcing company answers gripes about Legislative Plaza

Outsourcing company answers gripes about Legislative Plaza

Bureau Chief’s Note: This is the third of a four-part series about the state of Tennessee outsourcing maintenance services to a private provider. You may read the first part of the series here and the second part here.

More than a few Tennessee legislators have grumbled about the job Jones Lang LaSalle has done keeping up state-owned properties in downtown Nashville.

JLL officials say that, in their defense, there are details the public hasn’t heard.

They say they’ve made dramatic improvements to these facilities.

As reported, Tennessee officials hired JLL for not one but two contracts to oversee maintenance work on state buildings. The first contract dates to 2013.

The second contract, enacted this year, gives the company the right to oversee maintenance at additional state office buildings, including college campuses.

Photo courtesy of the Tennessee General Assembly's website.

Mark Pody

But legislators like State Rep. Mark Pody, R-Lebanon, don’t have kind things to say about JLL’s performance thus far.

In a letter to Speaker of the House Beth Harwell, dated March of last year, Pody complained about JLL’s cleaning and other maintenance services.

“I do not know the savings the state has made with privatization but the quality is not the same,” Pody wrote.

“I realize that Tennessee has equal competitive opportunities for all people but if they can’t speak our language, it is very hard to communicate our needs.”

State Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, said Legislative Plaza “is so bad and it’s been band-aided together.”

“We don’t feel that Legislative Plaza is getting what we expect from a maintenance company,” Ketron said.

“JLL came in at the beginning and showed us that the people who took care of it previously didn’t change out the air filters. We had rusted water pipes that didn’t have water running through them.”

JLL Executive Vice President Tom Foster told Tennessee Watchdog he has not read Pody’s letter but that he and other company officials get feedback on their work from five-question surveys company officials hand out.

The company has gotten more than a 95 percent satisfaction rating through the surveys they’ve done on state-owned buildings, he added.

“The air intake system in that building hasn’t been changed in more than 20 years. No one even had the keys to it. No one even knew what was in that room. We had to break into the room to find out that’s what it was. You can imagine 10 years of junk,” Foster said.

“We had to send our guys to go in in Hazmat suits. That is air going into that building. The issue we have is people don’t see that. If they see worn and dirty carpet in the hallways in Legislative Plaza then that to them will stick out. They have no idea what was going on behind the scenes.”

Foster said his company has made the buildings downtown safer and more reliable.

Tom Foster (photo courtesy of JLL)

“The day we showed up we were given a big notebook of Occupational Safety and Health Administration violations and environmental violations,” Foster said.

“It had 685 findings of potential violations and every one of those has been cleaned up. We just did a follow up and we have not received the results, but, based on the feedback we’re getting from the state, the report should be good.”

Outsourcing government services to private providers reportedly saves taxpayer money. Published reports say state officials need to save as much taxpayer money as they can and that outsourcing is one way to do it.

As reported, Tennessee’s State Employees Association dislikes this arrangement. State Rep. John Ray Clemons, D-Nashville, says this outsourcing deal amounts to nothing more than misplaced priorities — company profits over the best interests of employees.

State revenues, however, are decreasing.

State Rep. Mark White, R-Memphis, said state officials must consider alternative ways of getting things done.

In the fourth and final part of this series, Tennessee Watchdog examines whether Tennessee taxpayers have really saved money through this arrangement and whether it is likely to survive the state’s next governor.

Contact Christopher Butler at chris@tennesseewatchdog.org

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