By Don Cooley
Former Director, Alabama State Parks Division Department of Conservation & Natural Resources
As a former State Parks director, nothing would have pleased me more than being able to vote for a constitutional amendment to protect State Park revenues from being raided by the politicians.
But I will vote “No” on Amendment 2 because it would do more harm than good. Under the guise of protecting State Park revenues, the politicians have embedded language in Amendment 2 that would allow privatization of Alabama’s most popular and profitable State Parks.
After studying both the amendment and Act #2016-145 that authorized it, it is clear to me that if passed, Amendment 2 would allow privatization of both the land and facilities at all State Parks that have sleeping accommodations, or sleeping and eating accommodations, or a golf course.
I am opposing Amendment 2 because the lessons of history show that privatization would be devastating for the Alabama State Parks system.
I served in the State Parks Division for 22 years, the last of which were as State Parks Director. In the 1980s the State experimented with the concept of State Park privatization by allowing private corporations to manage the lodges at Joe Wheeler, Lakepoint, DeSoto, Cheaha and Gulf State Park.
The privatization experiment was a disaster. The corporations initially made millions, but they did not properly maintain the facilities. The facilities ultimately deteriorated to the point where the corporations abandoned them and dumped them back in the people’s lap.
To address the privatization disaster, in 1998 the people of Alabama approved Amendment 617 to the Constitution of Alabama that provided a $110 million bond issue to renovate a park system that had been decimated by privatization. In doing so, the people agreed they would renovate the State Parks, but with one very important condition: The parks would never be privatized again.
The people of Alabama spoke loudly and clearly against privatization by passing Amendment 617 with one of the largest positive votes for a constitutional amendment in State history.
But here the politicians go again by asking us in Amendment 2 to lift the ban on privatization and allow parks to be run by private corporations. If Amendment 2 is approved, history will repeat itself because the companies will make millions, the park facilities will deteriorate, and the people of Alabama will once again be left holding the bag.
Albert Einstein said the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Hopefully on November 7, the voters of Alabama will stop the insanity of State Park privatization once and for all by voting “No” on Amendment 2.