New contracting, purchasing policy adopted

April 2, 2010

By Tim Pfarr

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The City Council approved a new contracting policy with a 6-1 vote at its regular meeting March 2.

The policy came as a recommendation from the Finance Committee — Mayor John Dulcich and councilmen Rich Crispo and Bill Erxleben.With the policy, the city manager must seek approval from members of the Finance Committee or the City Council before making large purchases or signing large contracts.

The City Council plans to review the policy at the beginning of 2011.

For the past several years, the City Council would provide the city manager with policy directions, but there were no specific procedures the city manager was required to follow.

However, during that time, the city manager sometimes electively brought contracts forward to explain to the council the details of a given contract or answer questions, Director of Finance Christine Olson said.

The majority City Council praised the new policies and procedures.

“We’re going from no policy to a reasonable policy,” Erxleben said at the meeting. “The point was there was a total lack of review and controls.”

Deputy Mayor Steve Buri said he felt the new policies and procedures represented “a vast improvement” over where the city had been operating.

“I think this is a huge leap forward,” he said in an interview after the meeting.

Crispo, who has spent a significant amount of time at City Hall reviewing contracts since being sworn into office in January, said if the new contracting and purchasing procedures had been in place last year, the Finance Committee or the City Council would have reviewed some contracts relating to the transit center project and city signage.

He said those reviews would have been helpful for residents, regardless of whether the Finance Committee or City Council approved the contracts, as it would have made members of the public more aware of what contracts the city manager was signing.

Although Councilwoman Carol Simpson ultimately voted in favor of the policies and procedures, she expressed concerns.

“We were all elected to be a judiciary to the city, not just the three who were appointed to the Finance Committee,” she said at the meeting.

She said the city manager should be able to sign small contracts, but contracts large enough to be reviewed by the Finance Committee should go to the full City Council.

“I felt it was giving power to a majority of two to review contracts,” she said in an interview after the meeting about giving the Finance Committee the power to approve contracts.

However, she said the suggestion of reviewing the policy at the beginning of next year made her more comfortable voting in favor of the policies.

Councilman Sonny Putter represented the only dissenting vote in the policy’s approval. He said he is not comfortable with less than a quorum of the City Council making such decisions. He agreed with Simpson that the city manager should have the authority to sign contracts of a low monetary value, but said contracts large enough to be reviewed by the Finance Committee should go to the full City Council.

He added that contracts large enough to be reviewed by the Finance Committee are usually not the timeliest, and they often include contracts for things such as fireworks for the Fourth of July celebration.

Although the city manager did not need to seek approval from the City Council or the Finance Committee to sign contracts during the past several years, Putter said the contracts former City Manager John Starbard signed were in accordance with policies set by the City Council.

Putter said he was comfortable with that system, and that he did not want to micromanage. He added that all of the contracts Starbard signed were within the budget that had been approved by the City Council.

New policies

Materials, supplies and equipment
  • Less than $7,500: City manager makes purchase without approval
  • $7,500 to $25,000: Finance Committee approves purchase
  • More than $25,000: City Council approves purchase
Professional service contracts
  • Less than $3,000: City manager signs contract without approval
  • $3,000 to $25,000: Finance Committee approves contract signature
  • More than $25,000: City Council approves contract signature
Architectural, engineering services
  • Less than $5,000: City manager signs contract without approval
  • $5,000 to $25,000: Finance Committee approves contract signature
  • More than $25,000: City Council approves contract signature

Public works contracts

  • Less than $25,000 for single craft or $50,000 for multiple craft: City manager signs contract without approval
  • $25,000 to $100,000 for single craft, $50,000 to $100,000 for multiple craft: Finance Committee approves contract signature
  • More than $100,000 for single or multiple craft: City Council approves contract signature

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