Will Burchett Privatize the Library?

Knox County library employees fear the removal of director Larry Frank clears the way for incoming County Mayor Tim Burchett to privatize the library system. Maryland-based Library Systems and Services LLC operates libraries across the country on a contract basis. The company operates the library system in Jackson, in West Tennessee, and the contract has been upheld by the courts.

Burchett suggested during the campaign that some county services could be outsourced or privatized to save money, and library employees fear he might have been talking about libraries.

Frank was a popular figure, especially for fans of a new downtown library. His leaving is likely to cause an outcry. Frank was told he could resign and get severance or he could wait and likely be removed by Burchett with no severance. Frank, whose family finances have been strained by medical bills, resigned. Mayor Mike Ragsdale was being compassionate toward his directors or he was helping Burchett eliminate employees so Burchett didn't have to do it. But it is clear that Frank would not have resigned had Burchett planned to retain him.

Ragsdale built new libraries during his term but the county budget will be hard pressed to maintain and staff them at full levels. Library hours will probably have to be cut. In other cities where Library Systems has assumed control, the company has made its profit from the difference between the contract price and actual operating expenses by cutting staff, hours of operation, and the pay of government workers—and adding fees for some services.