NASHVILLE (AP) – Gov. Bill Haslam says he intends to continue privatizing some state government operations.
A contract to have a Chicago-based company manage state office space created controversy. It takes effect July 1 and 126 General Services Department workers will be laid off.
Haslam told the Chattanooga Times Free Press the administration will look at outsourcing work where practical.
"I think our job is to deliver the very best service at the lowest price, and I've said that from the very beginning," Haslam said last week, adding, "I think particularly this case with the real estate space is a great example of that."
A Davidson County judge dissolved a temporary restraining order on Monday. In a lawsuit, the Tennessee State Employees Association and individual workers say the state violated its own requirement to help affected workers find other positions by removing a website that would let them look for state jobs.
In ending the stay, Circuit Court Judge Amanda McClendon said it was obvious the state would suffer if the stay remained in force and said employees have no property rights to the jobs and the state was within its rights in the actions it took.
Haslam said he believed the website was unavailable because state computers were being programmed with pay adjustments after a study comparing public employee salaries with private jobs that were similar.
"Our systems didn't allow us to have those adjustments ready (on the NeoGov website)" for the employees getting laid off, Haslam said. "It wasn't a deliberate effort to shut them off."
Because of that study, more than 85 percent of state workers will get more than the 1.5 percent raise scheduled to take effect July 1, Haslam said.
Meanwhile, state employees and their representative argue that in some of the privatization, the savings promised don't materialize.
"As far as I know, state employees were doing a good job managing the buildings," said Robert O'Connell, executive director of the Tennessee State Employees Association.
What employees "think we're seeing here is an execution of a certain political philosophy" of privatization wherever possible of even "appropriate" public functions, O'Connell said.
But Haslam said the reviews don't always lead to privatization, saying the state is taking back some functions it earlier contracted out.
"I was talking to a highway contractor the other day who's kind of mad about some things we used to let private contractors do that we're bringing back in house" at the Department of Transportation," he said.
Information from: Chattanooga Times Free Press, www.timesfreepress.com
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