Danedri Thompson
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The city council laid most of its business on the table Jan. 6. Council members tabled a number of decisions Monday night including changes to its purchasing policy.
The purchasing policy sets limits for how much city employees can spend without approval of city council. It also outlines price points for services and goods to be put out to bid.
The city’s purchasing policy is at odds with the purchasing policy of the electric utility board’s, which allows Gardner Energy’s director to spend much more than city staff without prior approval. Council members suggested that the city’s policy should possibly mirror the utility’s during ongoing discussions about the future of the electric utility board.
Laura Gourley, city finance director,  presented an updated policy to city council members Jan. 6. She recommended allowing director-level employees, like parks and recreation director Jeff Stewart, to spend up to $10,000 without prior approval. Current policy allows director level employees to spend up to $5,000 without the prior approval of council.
Under city staff’s proposal, the city administrator would be able to spend or approve up to $50,000 in expenditures.Currently, city administrator Cheryl Harrison-Lee’s spending authority is capped at $15,000 without prior council approval.
Council member Larry Fotovich said $50,000 is too much.
“In my opinion, $50,000 guarantees bigger, more expensive government,” Fotovich said.
He suggested the council limit the city administrator’s spending authority to $25,000, and most council members appeared to reach a consensus that $25,000 is an appropriate amount.
Gourley said increasing the city administrator’s spending authority to $25,000 may save money, because it would also increase the amount at which services and goods must be taken out to bid.
The formal bidding process is time consuming for companies, and some choose not to waste the time bidding if the job isn’t worth enough money, Gourley explained. The city’s existing policy, which requires a formal bidding process for projects that cost more than $15,000 is “stifling,” she said.
She said raising the bid-process cap would allow staff to gather informal cost estimates on projects, and likely result in more diverse bids when the higher cost projects are let.
She did note, however, that $15,000 is the spending authority in other cities in Johnson County, like Leawood. However, Gourley said the purchasing policies of neighboring cities varies dramatically, and Gardner is unique.
“You’re the sixth largest city in Johnson County. Again, you have your own utilities. You are next to the largest project in the state,” she said. “You’re a growing city.”
Council member Steve Shute argued that the spending authority and formal bid cap should be higher than $25,000. Shute said the existing electric utility board policy authorizes more than $25,000, and the city’s policy should match the utility board’s policy.
Council member Kristina Harrison said the utility board could operate under the same policies as the other city utilities – water and wastewater.
“We have two utilities that will be operating under the new policy, and they currently operate under the existing policy,” she said. “If (the city policy) is good enough for them, it’s good enough for Gardner Energy.”
Although council members appeared to reach a consensus on limiting city administrator spending authority to $25,000 or less, the proposed policy would still allow discrepancies between the electric utility board and the city council.
Council members decided not to vote on the new purchasing policy until they have a chance to further discuss the electric utility board and its future.
The purchasing policy wasn’t the only thing tabled during the Jan. 6 meeting. Council members tabled three other items during the two-hour meeting.
They tabled a request to extend a requirement in Police Chief Gerry Cullumber’s contract that requires him to establish residency within city limits within six months of his hire.
Cullumber said his new residence is being remodeled.
“I’ve made every effort to get myself here,” Cullumber said.
Fotovich worried that Chief’s rental contract was not legal, because it did not show leasing cost.
In other business, council members:
• tabled a decision to approve some expenditures for the electric utility board, including a request for Gardner Energy to lease two, new specialty vehicles.
• approved a memorandum of understanding between the city of Gardner and the Chamber of Commerce. Under terms of the agreement, the city will give the Chamber $25,000 in two installments in 2014. The funds come from hotel taxes.