DeKalb City Manager Oversteps Purchasing Authority Again

Recently I came across this City of DeKalb memo circulated via a council meeting agenda in October:

With former Commander Smith’s retirement in June, the City faced an immediate crisis by not having on-call IT personnel who are familiar with the City’s specific computer systems and able to keep them operational at all times. On June 29, 2016, the City Manager entered into an agreement with Mr. Smith to provide IT support services to the City’s public safety computer system. An agreement to retain Mr. Smith until a new IT Director is hired needs to be approved by the City Council in the event the contract exceeds $20,000.

And here’s part of the resolution accompanying the memo:

WHEREAS, the City’s Purchasing Policy states: If any City purchase increases the total over $20,000 for the current fiscal year, the contract must be presented to the City Council for approval; and

WHEREAS, the ratification of said agreement constitutes approval to the exceed the $20,000 staff spending limitation; and…

Sounds like city manager Anne Marie Gaura can spend on anything she wants, as long as the tab comes in under $20,000, right? Sure seems like it sometimes.

But that is flat wrong. They are ignoring that the purchasing policy only allows purchases under $20,000 without city council approval where the purchases are already part of an approved annual budget.

(By the way, local policy considerations often dovetail with DeKalb’s Open Meetings Act compliance problems.)

The contract was not part of an approved budget. How could it be? It was conceived in a crisis situation. It should have gone immediately to council, no matter the anticipated cost. Additionally, the city manager basically effected a policy change in switching from an employee to a contractor for these services. Policy is council’s purview.

Another problem is that council allowed Gaura to “juggle” money from the personnel salary pot to cover contractual costs without approving a formal budget amendment. This distorts the expense picture and constitutes a disservice to the public.

And does anyone else personally think it’s bizarre that they waited 3-1/2 months to discuss a CRISIS and the actions taken to mitigate it?

One of the glaring holes in the purchasing policy is that the finance director is supposed to figure out whether each purchase is part of the budget or not, but guess who is her boss?

Ultimately, though, it’s the responsibility of the mayor and city council members to understand the rules, as well as their critical role in curbing the excesses of these bureaucrats.