Clemmons, Harris Hold Public Forum on Outsourcing at UTC

Outsourcing idea criticized at UT-Chattanooga gathering by Tom Humphrey - About 60 UT-Chattanooga employees, students, community supporters and United Campus Workers officials showed up for the second campus stop of a statewide tour led by two Democratic state legislators, Senate Minority Leader Lee Harris of Memphis and Rep. John Ray Clemmons of Nashville.

“In some respects, the administration has rushed to judgment,” Harris said.

“We just keep hearing about a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist,” (Rep. JoAnn) Favors added.

Since news leaked of his administration’s look at additional outsourcing, Haslam has maintained officials remain in an exploratory stage and no final decision has been made. But he’s not ruled it out either.

Chip Verner, UTC’s manager of facilities services, pointed out the operational costs at UTC and other public colleges and universities are already beating a key industry standard developed by Whitestone Research, with which the Haslam administration consulted.

“The governor says he wants to save money, but the data clearly shows it won’t,” he said.

Clemmons agreed with that assessment, noting, “What we hear is there’s no place else left to cut.”

Haslam has pointed to what he calls the success of his initial venture into facility management outsourcing that began with nearly 30 state buildings operated by the Department of General Services. That resulted in the state giving two state-owned office buildings in Chattanooga to UTC and relocating workers to leased space. While the state says they were too expensive to repair, UTC plans to make use of at least one of them.

Some two-thirds of state workers involved in facilities management under the Department of General Services lost their jobs when Chicago-based real estate giant Jones Lang LaSalle took over. Haslam says the state saved $12.9 million over a two-year period, but critics note the governor’s administration and Jones Lang LaSalle touted even higher savings. Critics also question whether the cost comparisons are valid.

“I don’t believe there are hard and fast numbers,” said Randy Stamps, a former Republican state representative and current head of government affairs for the Tennessee State Employees Association, who also participated in the hearing.

One higher education worker scoffed at General Services leaders, calling them “the ones who proved they couldn’t run their own facilities.”