Innovators in Action: Osceola County, Florida Commissioner Frank Attkisson

In the latest installment of Reason Foundation’s Innovators in Action series, I interview Osceola County, Florida Commissioner Frank Attkisson.

Osceola County policymakers faced few choices when, admist ongoing county-wide budget woes, the library system alone faced a $3 million budget deficit. In response, the Commission voted to approve the first-ever public-private partnership for libraries in Florida. They ultimately signed a five year contract that netted $6 million in savings with Maryland-based Library Systems & Services Incorporated (LSSI).

While the public-private partnership model is proven in states like California and Texas, this is a major move for Florida and one that is likely to be replicated by other local governments across the state. Here’s an excerpt from the interview:

Kenny: The first concern that many people have when it comes to libraries is access. How did the commission address this concern and how might other policymakers address it?

Attkisson: If another commission wants to do this, the boogey man is going to come out and people will try to scare them. Elected officials control these contracts and the public trusts us to deliver value for their money. We (the commission) control the hours and set the standards. We know what it costs and want the private sector to help us realize our vision for our libraries.

The vendor has an option to set up ancillary businesses to provide additional services to users, like a coffee shop. Think about how much has changed in ten years. We didn’t have computers or Internet. Now it’s a given that you’ll have those resources. That’s totally different from the libraries of ten years ago. We were able to leverage procurement to achieve substantive goals.

You have to have the backbone to say it will take 3-6 months to transition. But I’m comfortable that once we do, nobody will want to go back because we’ll have more capability than ever before.

Read the full interview available online here. For more, see Reason Foundation’s Innovators in Action 2012 series available online here.