Tennessee State Senator Lee Harris and Representative John Ray Clemmons said today in a conference call between media and higher education personnel that Governor Bill Haslam has not upheld his end of his own promise to conduct an independent, third-party review of his plan to outsource up to 17% of state jobs to privately-owned companies.
Haslam's privatization plan has been unfolding since his office quietly filed a “request for information for facilities management outsourcing” on August 11, 2015 — a request that solicits input from interested companies on how they might manage operations and costs if contracted to oversee operations of state-funded buildings and facilities.
The deadline for submitted proposals between the request from the governor's office and submitted applications from interested companies was ten days, with applications due on August 21, 2015. According to Thomas Walker of the United CampusWorkers, only two companies applied; Kraft CPA PLLC, a Nashville-based consulting firm and Newmark, Grubb, Knight, Frank, a national consulting firm.
For Harris and Clemmons, Haslam's selection of Kraft to conduct the independent analysis is troubling, and not because of the reputation of the firm, but because some of Kraft's employees have been under Haslam's direct payroll as campaign workers.
"At least one Kraft leader was reappointed by Haslam for the Board of Accountancy, an important state board with respect to matters dealing with the profession of accounting," said Harris, while adding that, they "would submit that all Haslam's state appointees, and all Haslam employees be excluded in participating in a credible independent review from the Haslam plan."
The scope of Gov. Haslam's privatization proposals covers state-run prisons, parks, hospitals, recreational facilities, and even National Guard facilities. Among the most heavily impacted by Haslam's privatization plans are campus employees of state-run universities, including the University of Memphis and the University of Tennessee Knoxville and Chattanooga.
An organizer with United Campus Workers, Thomas Walker, pointed out that this was the latest blurred line in Haslam's administration when it comes to keeping the political and the personal separated.
"The governor's plans aim to sell 10,00 jobs, more or less, across the state," said Walker, who added, "This is another example as to why we can't trust the governor. The entire process he has usedhas favored folks who are on the inside…his favored partners and allies."
Privatization of public jobs has long been scrutinized by unions and public employees. Some of the reigning concerns are centered around not only lower pay and lower quality of service, but also loss of wages and benefits.
Currently, no details have been made clear from Governor Haslam's office about the shift of benefits from state-paid employees to privately paid ones. Walker said that essentially, health insurance remains an unknown for the 10, 000 plus that could be affected by Haslam's privatization plans.
"Nothing is clear in terms of benefits," Walker said.
For now, Harris and Clemmons will continue to draw attention to the maybe-not-so-third-party party
review of the governor's privatization plans.
"We've got to get the word out to Tennesseans," said Harris. "This has to be a front-burner issue [when the 2017 legislative session starts]. There are plenty of people on both sides of the aisle questioning this. We've got to get the word out so we can get a real, independent review."