Haslam administration eyes privatizing some state park operations

Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration has issued a “request for information” to businesses on the possibility of privatizing operations at 11 state parks, according to WTVF-TV.

While the state insisted that it’s all very preliminary, the Tennessee State Employees Association expressed concern that it could become a sweetheart deal for big business.

“This is not a done deal,” insisted Tisha Calabrese-Benton, assistant commissioner for the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.
…(U)nder the plan being considered by the Haslam administration, operation of some of the state’s golf courses, inns and campgrounds, even marinas, could be turned over to a big corporation to operate.

…”Doing research to find out whether there are things that we can do to improve the way we operate makes sense, and that’s what this is,” Calabrese-Benton said. “And we don’t know what the outcome of that research is going to be. This is research.”

This effort follows a decision last year by the Haslam administration to outsource the management of state buildings to a big corporation. For career state employees, it can sometimes feel like they are under attack.

“Certainly, the operation of these parks ain’t broke,” said Bob O’Connell, executive director of the Tennessee State Employees Association.
O’Connell noted that the state’s own figures show state parks are already operating in the black, with some 1,500 full-and part-time state employees on the parks payroll.

He fears that jobs will be lost if a big corporation is allowed to turn those parks into a profit center.

“If someone out in private enterprise has a better and more efficient idea, let’s not bring them in and let them take over and let them make a profit on this better idea. Let’s use their idea,” O’Connell said.

Calabrese-Benton said, “We are looking at every option and this is one of those options.”

State officials insisted that the idea of outsourcing park operations isn’t a radical one. After all, the national park system has done the exact same thing….The state pointed out that a few state park restaurants and marinas have already been outsourced.