Bill Walker was rankled by Anne Laidlaw's suggestion that anything had ever been amiss in his agency's choice of buildings. He insists he didn't know about Mays' involvement as a potential landlord until after a state lease was negotiated in November 2009 and said he saw nothing extraordinary in the fact that his agency had negotiated a lease with someone who would later buy a building with the state as a guaranteed tenant or that the parties were political friends.
"There are a lot of situations like that out there," Walker said. He said that, having been in 20 years in politics, it would be hard for his agency to lease space from someone he didn't know. "It doesn't mean I rented because they knew me or I knew them."
He defended the consolidation move as necessary from 1) a warehouse space in Riverdale that had long been unsuitable with a landlord unwilling to make improvements and 2) from a building in Corporate Hill in Western Little Rock that had poor access for disabled people. He also said he thought it right for his department to have a building of its own, rather than being several floors in a bank building, as other alternatives contemplated. "I didn't want to be in a commercial building with bankers and mortgage companies with no real identity," he said.
When completed, he said a centrally located office, at a bus stop, with easy ground-floor access, will serve his agency's clients better. He said he hopes to further consolidate offices there.
He said he was "offended" by how Laidlaw had characterized the transaction. She had told our Arkansas Blog that Walker hadn't been happy with some of her hard negotiating on terms, including resisting a 10-year, rather than six-year term for the newly expanded lease. He said he believed all rules were followed. He speculated she was unhappy because her husband's company didn't have the janitorial contract for the building. That's an issue that has arisen periodically for Laidlaw. She's always said his business is kept apart from her agency work. In this case, she said, Colliers International, the leasing agent, invited Laidlaw Inc. to submit a bid on the building and he declined.
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