Lady Lake, FL prepares to privatize public works under OMI

The town of Lady Lake is poised to   consider privatizing the public works department, but only after a legal opinion is issued as to whether commissioners are allowed to take management rights for that department out of government control.

After being approached by Operations Management International, a utilities company currently working  for The Villages, town commissioners discussed the topic and allowed the company do a study how the town conducted business. This week, the company said it could save as much as $150,000 for the taxpayers of Lady Lake.

But the company will not reveal how that money would be saved until after negotiations are opened, according to project manager Russ Vaughn, because that would allow information to be learned by competitors.

 “We were hoping the commissioners would want to start up negotiations now so we could show them those numbers,” Vaughn said.

But Commissioner Johanna Perrigo, the privatization proposal’s most vocal critic, pointed out a potential problem in the city charter, which listed the operation of the public works department as a duty of the town manager. Another part of the charter, however, says the commission has the power to define the duties of the manager.

Because of the language, commissioners reached a consensus to table the privatization issue until after Town Attorney Leslie Campione could research and form a legal opinion on the board‚s right to privatize.

If the charter allows it, a majority of commissioners voiced support for hearing out privatization options, though all did not want to necessary limit the possibilities exclusively with OMI. “I have no problem with this going out to bids,” said Commissioner John Davis.

Mayor Mike Francis said the decision about whether the town should stay with government public works, start negotiations exclusively with OMI or open up a bidding process should wait until after the attorney issues an opinion.  

Some concerns were also voiced about OMI’s reluctance to release figures. Vaughn said the company did not want the numbers put out for       consumption if the town still wanted to go for bids because competitors would be able to use the company’s projections to form their won numbers.

But Commissioner Milton Platt was concerned that such a bold proposal could be brought forward without any specifics. “My primary problem is the company says they can save us ŒX‚ amount of dollars, but won't tell us  how,” he said. “They won’t share any details.”

“But that is why we would start negotiations,” countered Francis, a proponent of examining privatization.

Commissioner Henryka Presinzano would like to start negotiations, but suggested that OMI release the numbers in a “good faith gesture.” She said if the town can save money for taxpayers, then the commission would be negligent not to do so. But Perrigo said this could put the job security of many long-time city employees in jeopardy.