Council to review controversial purchasing policy

Council will review a controversial city policy that the mayor tried unsuccessfully to change as recently as this spring.

Following the advice of George Cuff, who in September conducted an audit of city hall, and other consultants the city has met with this year, Coun. Claire Moglove requested council take another look at its purchasing policy.

The policy, which city staff follows when awarding contracts to outside companies and when purchasing supplies, has been a hot topic at city hall in recent months.

“I decided to choose the purchasing policy as perhaps the first one we might want to review for a number of reasons,” Moglove said at last week’s Tuesday council meeting. “One (being) there’s two pieces of the purchasing policy that seem to create controversy from time to time and I’m talking about the lack of a local preference policy and also spending limits.”

Mayor Walter Jakeway first voiced concerns over the purchasing policy, in particular how much city staff could spend without council approval, in March.

Currently general managers are allowed to spend up to $50,000 without asking for council’s permission while senior managers can spend up to $100,000 without first running it by council.

During this year’s budget planning meetings, Jakeway advocated for lowering that price point to $20,000 out of concern that “the flood gates (would) open” once the budget was approved and staff were free to spend.

“In 2012 we’re in tight money times,” he said. “I think it’s very important for council to have a $20,000 review point so council knows what’s going on and so the public knows what’s going on.”

Jakeway also believed city staff were setting project budgets too high, so that when Request for Proposals went out, companies were coming back with bids with jacked up prices.

However, City Manager Andy Laidlaw said the city was following best practices and any bids that came in under budget were awarded.

Jakeway’s request to lower the purchasing policy threshold for city staff was subsequently defeated by the rest of council.

More recently, Jakeway was bothered by the second piece of the purchasing policy Moglove identified as controversial – hiring out of town companies.

Earlier this month, Jakeway expressed his disappointment in the city hiring a Vancouver-based company, Graphically Speaking, to redesign the city’s website.

“The optics are terrible,” he said. “This was purely a decision of the city manager. City council had no say in the matter.”

And that’s because Graphically Speaking’s bid for the work was $56,993, well under the $100,000 threshold. The contract was awarded based on a points system that determined Graphically Speaking offered the best overall value for the city, although the company did not provide the cheapest quote.

Moglove said her motivation in reviewing the purchasing policy is to take some of the heat off city staff and determine if the policy needs changing.

“Instead of criticizing staff when they follow policy, I thought it would be better if we actually review the policy and decide whether we want to keep the policy or whether we want to change the policy,” she said.

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