The Charlotte City Council could give City Manager Marcus Jones more power to issue contracts without public scrutiny, under a recommendation by the city’s auditor.
The city’s current rule is that a contract that’s more than $100,000 is voted on by council members. It’s placed on the council agenda, which can be reviewed by the public. The items are usually approved unanimously by council, but they are sometimes debated during a public meeting.
The recommendation is to raise the maximum to $500,000.
During the last fiscal year, the audit found there were 464 items on the council “consent agenda,” which is where small, routine items are approved. Of those items, 226 of those items were under $500,000. They totaled about $50 million in spending, according to the audit.
If the change goes through, those items would be removed from the agenda. Jones and other department heads would be able to award the contracts without advance public knowledge.
City auditor Greg McDowell wrote that he’s confident the city has safeguards in place to ensure the contracts are awarded properly.
Republican City Council member Ed Driggs said the council hasn’t considered the proposal. He said the meeting agendas can be lengthy, and there could be some merit to making them smaller.
“It might help us target big items,” he said. “We want to give (the manager) the latitude to run the business on a day-day-day basis. Under the right circumstances it could be helpful not to look at a renewal of a $200,000 contract that is routine.”
But Driggs said there is a benefit to having the contracts listed so the public and media can review them.
Some of the contracts that could be removed from public scrutiny are for consulting work. For instance, earlier this year, council members approved a contract with Jacobs Engineering to study the Eastland Mall site for $145,000. The second phase of the work could cost up to $430,000.
The audit said that in 2008, a consultant recommended the city raise its council approval threshold to $250,000. But council members declined to do that.
Earlier this year, the City Council voted not to televise the citizens forum during its council meetings. During the forum, people can address council members on any topic, with three minutes given to each person.
But after several forums became unruly, council members decided the television cameras were encouraging people to curse and scream at council members.