State Treasurer John Kennedy’s complaints about contracts prompted the House to push through legislation that would require a thorough review of the state’s estimated 15,000 professional, personal and consulting contracts valued at roughly $21 billion in less than a month.
Kennedy’s been on TV, radio and written op-eds about the wasteful contracts that have harmed the state’s budget.
But Kennedy’s office has at least one contract of its own that has been questioned repeatedly.
Since 2011, the Treasurer’s Office has leased office space at One City Plaza on North Boulevard in Baton Rouge. Currently, that site is home to the Treasurer’s Unclaimed Property, Audit and Compliance sections.
According to information from the Division of Administration, about 22 employees work out of the 11,954-square-foot space. The cost to taxpayers: $369,597 a year.
Documents obtained by The Advocate indicate that the Office of Facility Planning and Control has spent months — dating back to 2014 — trying to bring the issue to Kennedy’s attention and get the offices moved to unoccupied, cheaper, state-owned space that would have saved the state an estimated $293,858 a year.
In October 2014, the Jindal administration sent word to the Treasurer’s Office that it was looking to fill vacant space in the Capitol Complex and that the offices in One City Plaza had been targeted as possibly movable.
Attached to the letter was an eight-page questionnaire about the office’s space and equipment needs.
A month later, Randy Janies, of the Division of Administration’s real estate leasing office, emailed Assistant State Treasurer Ron Henson to follow up and note that no response had been received.
“The rates for all of the Capitol Complex buildings are lower than the rate your department is currently paying at your North Boulevard location, so the relocation could reduce you rental costs,” he wrote.
Janies’ email pleas continued for months: “We are at the point where we need information regarding your department’s space requirements for staff housed in leased space at (One) City Plaza,” he wrote on Jan. 22, 2015.
That email was forwarded to Kennedy’s assistant with the note: “Please print this for John’s reading folder.”
Janies again asked in February and March when the form would be completed and returned. In March, Henson wrote back that Kennedy hadn’t reviewed the information yet.
In May, the Division of Administration sent another formal letter to Kennedy indicating that space was available, and the Treasurer’s Office would save money with the move. Another formal letter came Nov. 30, noting that no response was received after the May letter.
Asked to comment, Kennedy released a statement from Henson.
“We are under contract (lease) with City Plaza One,” he said. “We have no objection to moving into the Capitol Complex. In fact, two divisions of the department already have moved from City Plaza One to the Capitol Complex at a savings to taxpayers. Treasury is currently working with the state to identify adequate space for our remaining employees at City Plaza One once the lease expires on Aug. 31.”
As is repeatedly pointed out in the multiple messages from the Division of Administration, the Treasurer’s Office has a clause in its lease that would allow it to terminate the contract early if state-owned space became available, as was the case with the proposed Capitol Complex move.
Kennedy, a Republican who is in his fifth term as treasurer, is running for the U.S. Senate seat that’s being vacated by Republican Sen. David Vitter, who decided not to seek re-election after losing the governor’s race to Gov. John Bel Edwards last fall.
Kennedy, who backed Vitter in the gubernatorial election, has since emerged as a chief critic of Edwards, a Democrat who took office Jan. 11.
In recent weeks, Kennedy and Edwards have traded barbs over what path should be taken to solve the state’s $900 million budget crisis. Edwards has proposed a mix of budget cuts and tax increases that would bridge the gap by the June 30 end of the budget cycle and called the state Legislature into a special session to fix the problem.
Kennedy has repeatedly brought up things like state contracts as evidence of what he calls government waste.
The House last week sent legislation to the Senate that would direct Edwards’ administration, the commissioner of higher education and statewide elected officials to review all of their contracts and justify the need for them.
“We have someone going throughout the state saying we can balance the budget through contracts,” Rep. Lance Harris, the chairman of the Republican Delegation and sponsor of the contracts bill, said on the House floor, clearly alluding to Kennedy.
Edwards issued a similar executive order Feb. 15.
Kennedy didn’t directly respond to questions about whether he has reviewed his office’s contracts yet or whether he has begun that process.
For more coverage of Louisiana state government and politics, follow our Politics blog at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog .