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Black Diamond City Council adds stipulation to mayor’s spending authority
Mayor Dave Gordon may need to wait a little longer than usual to order paper clips, as the Black Diamond City Council unanimously adopted a resolution June 5 that requires a second signature for any and all purchases made with city money.
The resolution requires that one member of the Finance Committee sign off on all contracts for non-budgeted goods and services costing $7,500 or less and prebudgeted contracts for goods and services up to $15,000. In the process, the council repealed the previous resolution, described as “ineffective,” that allowed the mayor to approve all contracts and purchases without any other authorization.
The Finance Committee currently consists of councilwomen Janie Edelman and Carol Benson, but can change every year.
Following the meeting, Gordon told The Reporter that he was “disappointed” in the resolution because it lacks provisions for emergencies and also requires signatures for everything — from a box of paperclips or packet of paper to major expenses.
Gordon gave an example of a late night sewer pump failure that will now require more time and hassle to get resolved. Even a test run for buying a new printer became a hassle, he said.
“There should be a reasonable amount that doesn’t require a second signature,” Gordon said. “We’ve literally locked and keyed the money. In case of emergencies there could be problems.”
Finance Director May Miller had a different perception on the resolution, saying this change only pertains to professional service, contract situations. She said she was not concerned about the double-signing, as she didn’t “really see where there will be any situations where will need to use it.”
“We don’t contract for office supplies,” Miller said. “It’s only things we contract for.”
When contacted Tuesday, Edelman confirmed the mayor’s take on the matter, saying that there may have been some confusion. She said the city is mainly focused on the “big ticket items,” but that all purchases will need a second signature.
“I’m going to talk to (Miller) and make sure we have the same understanding,” she said.
Edelman added that looking at the minor purchases may be important to help reign in some of the spending, but those are not the main focus for the change.
“A lot of it is related to professional contracts and, honestly, the mayor hasn’t done a good job of monitoring the budget the last six months and that’s why we had to do this,” she said.
Gordon told The Reporter that he threatened to veto the “short-sighted” resolution in an email he sent to council members. He lobbied to add provisions for emergencies and an override option. Ultimately, Gordon said he decided that it was his job “to support the what the council wants” even though he thinks the resolution will slow down the government and everyday processes.
“I haven’t found another mayor that has to do this in the state of Washington,” he said.
Councilman Ron Taylor brought a resolution to the council in April that would have temporarily restricted the mayor’s ability to sign contracts without the full council’s approval, but withdrew the resolution before it came to a vote.
The council has voiced concern over excessive spending, specifically related to attorney’s fees associated with the mayor. The city recently agreed to pay former City Administrator Christy Todd a severance package that will cost approximately $60,125, after Todd filed a sexual harassment claim against the mayor.
Edelman said prior to the resolution vote that city money is “leaving the coffers at quite a remarkable speed” and that the resolution lets the city have a role in the beginning of the process, as opposed too finding out about an expenditure when the bill comes.
“This is not intended to usurp the authority of the mayor,” she said. “This is to help to make sure that what we are doing is the right thing.”
Miller told The Reporter that the city has seen more over-budget spending in legal costs than in any other area since she’s been with the city the past seven years. She said the city is not out of money, but “everyone wants to make sure that we don’t run out of money.”
Councilman Ron Taylor said at the meeting that the council is ultimately responsible for the city’s finances and the change will give the group better awareness of the expenditures.
“There are all kinds of organizations and public entities, and whatnot, that have two signature lines on their checks,” he said. “That’s basically what this is - just have two people involved to have a greater awareness.”
Councilwoman Erika Morgan said the resolution helps blaming fingers from being directed at only one person.
“I would never, ever want to have it come on to myself that I am spending public money that belongs essentially to other people, another entity, without another signature on there to back me up,” she said.
Gordon said he didn’t believe this to be a message about the council’s confidence in him, but about the city’s hemorrhaging budget.
“I hope they see it’s not effective and put in provisions,” he said.