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Tennessee’s Gov.-elect Bill Lee announces blind trust

January 9, 2019

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Incoming Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee announced Wednesday he’s giving up control of his large heating, cooling, plumbing and electric business and the company is promising not to contract with state government as long as the Republican is in political office.

“As I said I would do on the campaign trail, I have officially stepped away from my company and placed all of my company holdings into a blind trust to eliminate any potential conflicts of interest,” Lee said in a statement.

The Franklin-based Lee Co. employs more than 1,200 employees, generates $225 million a year and operates throughout middle Tennessee, northern Alabama and southern Kentucky.

Lee, who had worked at the company for more than 35 years, resigned as chairman on Dec. 21. The company’s board of directors then signed a resolution removing Lee as chair effective Wednesday. On the same day, Lee’s stock entered into a blind trust. He will be inaugurated Jan. 19.

Political officeholders often create blind trusts where financial advisers manage their financial holdings to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest.

“I look forward to this new chapter of public service and I leave knowing that Lee Company is in good hands with CEO Richard Perko and the board of directors,” Lee said.

Marty Dickens, chairman of Nashville’s Music City Center Authority, will replace Lee as chairman.

Lee’s holdings will be managed by attorney Robert “Bo” Campbell, Jr. of the Nashville law firm Waller, Lansden, Dortch and Davis. Campbell is the same attorney who also managed the blind trust of outgoing Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam.

Haslam was criticized in 2010 during his first gubernatorial bid for refusing to release his tax filings or disclose his earnings from family-owned Pilot Flying J, the country’s largest diesel retailer. At the time, Haslam argued releasing his Pilot earnings would reveal personal information about family members not running for office as well as proprietary information about the privately-held company with annual revenues of about $30 billion.

Similarly, Lee — whose successful bid for the top state seat was the first time he had ever run for political office — declined to disclose details of his federal tax returns after citing concerns it could negatively impact Lee Co.

Meanwhile, President Donald Trump has bucked the tradition of past U.S. presidents by refusing to divest from his business holdings. Foreign leaders and interest groups frequently stay at his hotel properties.

Lee’s transition team says the newly elected Republican will no longer have communication with the company regarding contracts and other business decisions. The company will also halt pursuing any new state contracts.

Lee’s business contracts had been a source of question among some attorneys and ethics experts about the possible legal logistics of a governor’s private business contracting with the state. Since 2012, the business had received nearly $14 million in state contracts from multiple public agencies

Lee Co. had no current state contracts in the final weeks of the campaign.

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