Harwell: No Privatization of Tennessee Park Services as Gov

Source: Associated Press, September 14, 2017

Republican gubernatorial candidate Beth Harwell says she won’t privatize services at Tennessee state parks if she is elected governor. The Chattanooga Times Free Press reports that Harwell’s position is at odds with term-limited Gov. Bill Haslam’s longtime pursuit of outsourcing more functions at the parks. Harwell, who is the speaker of the state House of Representatives, said privatizing hospitality, food and other services at state parks is a “touchy point for our rural areas,” and that she would not pursue Haslam’s goals in that area. …


Haslam leaves privatizing state park management decision to next Tennessee governor
Source: Andy Sher, Times Free Press, August 24, 2017
The Haslam administration is abandoning all efforts to outsource management of Fall Creek Falls State Park and other state parks and will instead leave the volatile issue of privatizing operations to Tennessee’s next governor.  State Department of Environment and Conservation Commissioner Bob Martineau made the announcement Thursday during an appearance before a legislative study committee taking a critical look at administration outsourcing across state government. …

Judge rules Tennessee must release outsourcing records about Fall Creek Falls purchase
Source: Associated Press, June 29th, 2017

A judge has ruled in favor of a media group that sued the state of Tennessee to release records about its attempt to outsource services at Fall Creek Falls State Park. The Tennessee Coalition for Open Government says Davidson County Chancellor Bill Young on Tuesday ruled that the state must produce records to City Press Communications LLC, parent company of the Nashville Scene and the Nashville Post, and reporter Cari Wade Gervin. …

Fall Creek Falls state park outsourcing push draws no bidders
Source: Associated Press, May 11, 2017
A push by Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration to outsource hospitality services at a Tennessee state park has drawn no bidders. Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation spokeswoman Kim Schofinski says that no one bid on the proposal at Fall Creek Falls State Park, located on the Upper Cumberland Plateau in Van Buren and Bledsoe counties. TDEC planned to award the winning bidder $20 million to raze the park’s inn and build a new one. The Tennessee State Employees Association and park workers opposed it. …

Bill to Ban Outsourcing Sails Through Committee
Source: Sam Stockard, Memphis Daily News, March 29, 2017

A Senate panel approved legislation Monday prohibiting the outsourcing of jobs at state parks less than a week after the State Building Commission renewed plans for rebuilding and privatizing the inn at Fall Creek Falls. The measure sponsored by Sen. Sara Kyle would prevent privatizing maintenance, operation and preservation of state parks, including buildings, facilities, structures and improvements on park property. Plans call for a $22 million project to hire a contractor to demolish the Fall Creek Falls inn and build a new facility, which would be run by the new vendor. … The measure, which moves next to the Senate Finance, Ways & Means Committee, received no discussion, a sign senators are cool to the idea of outsourcing state parks.

… The executive committee of the State Building Commission last week approved renewal of a request for proposals to hire a vendor to oversee construction and operation of the inn at Fall Creek Falls, a technical move to re-insert its authority in the building process. An amendment to the RFP shows the state intends to select a vendor in early May and seek State Building Commission approval May 22 before awarding a contract a few days later. …

Proposed Fall Creek Falls outsourcing process back on track with tighter oversight
Source: Andy Sher, Times Free Press, March 24, 2017
The State Building Commission will now have firmer control over building-related aspects of Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s plans for outsourcing Fall Creek Falls State Park’s operations under amended rules for bidders approved on Thursday.  But Treasurer David Lillard, a commission member, made it clear during the commission’s executive subcommittee meeting that the panel’s oversight jurisdiction does not extend to the request for proposals’ other major area: The outsourcing of hospitality functions at the popular Upper Cumberland Plateau park in Van Buren and Bledsoe counties. …

Panel looks to amend Fall Creek Falls outsourcing plan
Source: Andy Sher, Times Free Press, March 20, 2017

Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration hopes to get its controversial outsourcing proposal for Fall Creek Falls State Park back on track this week. A committee of the State Building Commission is set to hear changes to the proposal sparked by political fireworks shot off by influential architects and engineers and alarmed state employees. When the State Building Commission on Dec. 8 unanimously approved the original request for proposals, which called for issuing a single contract to build a new inn and operate the park’s hospitality services, no public questions were asked by members. But state workers already had fretted about losing jobs and benefits under a private operator. After the vote, architects and engineers charged the RFP marked a dramatic departure from the commission’s oversight over the selection of designers, engineers and builders. … As Haslam’s fellow Republicans in the General Assembly became concerned and began applying heat on building commission members, the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation abruptly postponed its March 2 deadline for responses. The purpose was to revise the RFP after getting a clear message to do so. Changes are expected to address architects and engineers’ concerns only, with the State Building Commission’s responsibility limited to facilities and leasing issues. … Stamps remains concerned Haslam likely will seek to outsource management in other state parks. ….

Fall Creek Falls outsourcing largely bypasses State Building Commission oversight
Source: Andy Sher, Times Free Press, February 26, 2017
… Tennessee architects and engineers have jumped into the political battle between the administration on one side and, on the other, state employees and Van Buren County who oppose outsourcing hospitality services at the remote Cumberland Plateau park considered the “jewel” of Tennessee’s park system. The architects and engineers say the administration’s request for proposals (RFP) to privatize hospitality services also has provisions that affect them and would largely bypass the State Building Commission, which oversees state building and renovation projects.  The administration has set aside $22 million to tear down the park’s inn and build a new one.  The proposal would allow vendors to select their own architects, engineers and construction teams. But William Blankenship, a Knoxville architect and president of the American Institute of Architects- Tennessee, said the RFP “circumvents” the State Building Commission. …

Other state parks could follow Fall Creek Falls into privatization
Source: David Cobb, Times Free Press, February 12th, 2017

Amid an ongoing effort to privatize hospitality services at Fall Creek Falls State Park, some state officials are not yet publicly committing to pursue similar plans at other state parks. But with Gov. Bill Haslam’s proposed 2017-18 budget featuring an unprecedented $58.8 million in capital spending at state parks across Tennessee, Fall Creek Falls looks poised to be just the first park to have a private vendor take over management of its hotel, conference center, restaurant and golf course from state employees. Haslam’s proposed budget, released Jan. 30, allots a combined $44.8 million for large-scale renovations to facilities at three state parks, mirroring a similar investment at Fall Creek Falls from last year’s budget that preceded the privatization effort there. “At this time, there are no active plans in place” in regards to further privatization efforts at those three parks, Paris Landing, Pickwick Landing and Henry Horton, said a Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation spokesperson in an email Friday. … Opponents of privatization at state parks point to the inevitable loss of state jobs in economically distressed areas and an increase in room rates that they say can price regular citizens out of parks that were never intended to be profit centers. ….

Tennessee lawmaker threatens to end automatic deduction of union dues for anti-outsourcing group
Source: Andy Sher, Times Free Press, February 6, 2017
A Tennessee lawmaker who supports Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s efforts to privatize Fall Creek Falls State Park’s hospitality operations has introduced legislation targeting the Tennessee State Employees Association, which is fighting the outsourcing.  Rep. Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville, whose district includes the park, filed the bill, which would end state government’s automatic payroll dues deductions for state workers who are employees association members. …

Fall Creek Falls Inn Looks To Privatize Costing State Employees Their Jobs
Source: Jonquil Newland, News Channel 5, January 5, 2017

While protestors gathered outside, indoors TDEC officials met with five private vendors. The State has planned to invest $20 million to demolish and rebuild the inn, then allow operations to go to a private corporation. That would mean the dozens of State employees that work there will be out of a job, at least for a few years. TDEC Deputy Commissioner Brock Hill said the agreement with a private vendor will help insure consistent funding to maintain the concession facilities, which included the golf course, all the cabins, and the inn, which has seen a major dip in occupancy rates. … Wilson has been concerned how privatizing a portion of the park will affect the county’s revenue. … The State said more visitors at the inn will lead to increased tax revenue for local governments. … The State went on to say it has been committed to finding other employment opportunities inside TDEC or state government for those employees who will be affected by the privatization. …

State moves forward with plan to privatize Fall Creek Falls hospitality services
Source: David Cobb, Times Free Press, December 14, 2016

Fall Creek Falls State Park employees learned Monday that the state is taking a significant formal step today in the plan to demolish, rebuild and privatize the inn, restaurant and conference center at Tennessee’s most-visited state park. A request for proposals on the project is scheduled to be posted on the state’s website this morning, officials from the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation confirmed Tuesday. TDEC officials met with the park’s full-time employees at the conference center Monday to discuss how the building project and subsequent privatization will affect the 48 full-time hospitality workers at the park. … TDEC Deputy Commissioner Brock Hill said Tuesday the state plans to identify its top proposal in late March or early April and that demolition of the 44-year-old building could begin by next December. Hill called it a $22 million project that will benefit the local, regional and state economy as a company enters to operate the park with “a private sector business model.” Opponents of the project argue that state parks are not intended to be profit centers and that extensive renovation at the inn would be a more cost-effective solution to falling occupancy rates. Tennessee State Employees Association Executive Director Randy Stamps said Tuesday that he is “mystified” the state wants to tear the inn down, adding he expects there to be legislative hearings about the matter when the Tennessee General Assembly reconvenes next year. … The private company would take over the inn once construction is complete, likely in 2020, and also take over the state park golf course and the cabins at that time, Hill said. The state would still own the building. …

Privatization looms at Fall Creek Falls once again
Source: David Cobb, Times Free Press, November 4, 2016

Fear is on the rise once again at Fall Creek Falls over the possibility of privatization and its potential ramifications for residents of the nearby rural communities who depend on state jobs at the inn and restaurant for their livelihoods. … An attempt to privatize state park hospitality services was halted last year because of the poor conditions of state park facilities. Now the state is planning to give it another shot at Fall Creek Falls. Brock Hill, Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation deputy commissioner, confirmed this week that the state is poised to spend roughly $20 million to tear down the 45-year-old inn and rebuild it to modern standards to be run by private management. The inn also houses the restaurant and a conference center. Hill called Fall Creek Falls “a treasure” of the community. It’s Tennessee’s most popular state park, with more than 1 million annual visitors, and is an economic driver for Bledsoe and Van Buren counties — both considered economically distressed by the state. That’s why the state wants to invest in the park’s future with a new facility, Hill said. … While Wilson agrees the 45-year-old building “needs a facelift,” he thinks there are solutions that could protect state jobs and the hotel tax revenue for Van Buren County that would be lost during the estimated two-year construction process. Build the new facility elsewhere in the park, keep the current inn open in the meantime and then transfer the employees to the new facility, he suggested. Last year’s effort by Haslam to privatize the hospitality operations at 11 state parks resulted in TDEC asking for $55 million to upgrade park facilities after Hill said vendors “were shocked, to some degree,” at the condition of the facilities. Legislators approved a budget in April that included $30.4 million for “state parks hospitality operations” at Fall Creek Falls and Montgomery Bell State Park. The budget says the funds will support “the demolition of older facilities, the construction of a new inn, cabin and villa renovations, restaurant renovations, and golf course pro shop maintenance at Fall Creek Falls State Park.” …

No bids submitted in Haslam’s parks privatization plan
Source: Eric Schelzig, Associated Press, December 14, 2015

Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s effort to outsource hospitality operations at 11 state parks has failed to draw any interest from private vendors. Haslam has long said park services like restaurants, golf courses, inns and marinas are prime examples of areas where private vendors could do a better and cheaper job than state government. The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation earlier this month requested $55 million to upgrade facilities at parks before operations could be handed over to private vendors. But at least one of the three companies that had expressed interest in a bid dropped out over uncertainty about whether lawmakers would approve the money. …

Privatization plan two-fold for Tennessee state parks
Source: David Cobb, Times Free Press, October 22, 2015

The matter gets even more tangled when it comes to Tennessee State Parks. That’s because the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, which oversees the state’s parks, was already exploring the possibility of privatizing state park hospitality services before Gov. Bill Haslam began considering the privatization of facilities management for state buildings. … At Fall Creek Falls State Park, which is located in Bledsoe and Van Buren counties, privatization would mean an outside company would enter a partnership with the state to operate an inn, a restaurant, cabins and a golf course currently operated directly by the state. A private company would be selected in the spring with a contract beginning next August.

Fall Creek Falls Could Become Privatized, State Officials Say
Source: Brittany Nicholson, Channel News 9, October 21, 2015

The state of Tennessee now says changes could be coming to Fall Creek Falls State Park. It’s one of the state parks that could be affected by Governor Bill Haslam’s plan to outsource government jobs. Haslam is trying to cut costs by exploring the idea of privatizing jobs like with state-owned hospitals, universities and state parks. … Fall Creek Falls lands in both Van Buren and Bledsoe counties. Both county commissions have passed resolutions opposing the privatization of the state park. …

State Takes First Steps Towards Privatizing Parks
Source: Phil Williams, NewsChannel5, February 27, 2014

… Tennessee boasts some 54 state parks, from the Bicentennial Mall to more tranquil hidden gems like Radnor Lake. But under 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. State officials recently asked the industry for ideas about how it might save money in some of the larger state parks. On the list in Middle Tennessee: Montgomery Bell, David Crockett, Henry Horton, Tims Ford, Fall Creek Falls and Cumberland Mountain state parks. Also on the list: Paris Landing, Pickwick Landing, Natchez Trace, Harrison Bay and Warriors Path state parks. Altogether, 11 state parks are included in the recent “request for information.” ….

…The state pointed out that a few state park restaurants and marinas have already been outsourced. Here is the list:
Restaurants: Cove Lake, Harrison Bay, and Chickasaw
Gift Shop and Camp Store: Fall Creek Falls
Marinas: Edgar Evins, Tim’s Ford
Equestrian stables: Warriors Path, Fall Creek Falls, Cedars, Natchez Trace…