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VOL. 37 | NO. 31 | Friday, August 02, 2013

General Services head leaving for private sector

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NASHVILLE (AP) - The commissioner of the Tennessee Department of General Services is leaving to take a job in the private sector, Gov. Bill Haslam said Friday.

Steve Cates has faced criticism during his 2½ years as commissioner, first for his role in evicting Occupy Nashville protesters and more recently for overseeing a plan to outsource management of most state offices.

The $38 million management contract went to Chicago-based Jones Lang LaSalle, the same firm that recommended the change. Plans include the closure of six large state-owned office buildings in Nashville, Chattanooga and Memphis, with workers moving to new state-owned space or leased commercial space.

Haslam has praised the outsourcing plan, which was approved without legislation, although his chief of staff, Mark Cate, said recently the administration should have been more transparent about it.

"In hindsight, this is a huge deal," Cate said. "It's a big change and we should have treated it more from a communications standpoint like we did on, say, civil service reform."

Haslam has shrugged off questions about Jones Lang LaSalle being listed among his personal investments of more than $10,000 before his election in 2010. Since he was elected, most of his investments have been in a blind trust.

In a news release, Haslam praised Cates for "bringing state government into the 21st Century."

"We now have a reliable inventory of state properties; we have a plan to maintain those properties instead of deferring maintenance costs until there is a crisis; we're creating more functional and cost-effective work spaces for our employees; and we're leveraging the state's buying power to save taxpayer dollars," Haslam said.

Cates recently lost a First Amendment lawsuit brought by Occupy Nashville protesters over their eviction from the plaza next to the state capital. He has appealed.

Before working for state governm ent, Cates was a partner in the real estate development company Cates-Kottas. General Services spokeswoman Lola Potter said in an email that Cates has several businesses and plans to resume his involvement with them when he leaves the department Aug. 20.

Haslam has not yet named Cates' replacement.