STOW — City Council is expected to work with the administration on a proposal that could allow legislators to have oversight of more city expenditures.
Council Member Brian Lowdermilk (Ward 3) proposed legislation that, if passed, would reduce the maximum expenditure amount the city’s board of control is allowed to approve from $15,000 to $9,000. That would mean any individual city expenditure higher than $9,000 would have to be reviewed and approved by Council.
The proposal was discussed in Council’s Finance Committee meeting, where it was decided that Lowdermilk and possibly other council members would meet with Mayor John Pribonic and his administrative team to work out a plan.
Lowdermilk noted he was not "locked in" on the $9,000 figure, and added he "was open to amendments" on his proposal.
Pribonic invited council members to meet with the administration to see if they could narrow down the issue and formulate a plan.
Nick Wren, the mayor’s chief of staff, said the administration had not been contacted by anyone on Council as of Wednesday.
At the committee meeting, Lowdermilk noted there was recently a project "put together by pieces" without Council’s knowledge, in some cases by use of Board of Control spending.
He added lowering the board’s maximum spending approval level would provide more transparency, allowing Council to learn about city plans sooner. He crafted the legislation after speaking with other council members.
Pribonic sent a letter to Council in which he said lowering the amount the Board of Control could approve would be a "step backward" for the city.
The mayor said the board of control’s expenditure approval limit was last increased from $10,000 to the current $15,000 figure in 2006. Lowdermilk’s proposal would reduce this level to an amount lower than what it was 13 years ago, Pribonic said.
"Asking the administration to delay action on purchases, programs, and initiatives for multiple weeks for such a minor amount is inefficient and not cost effective," wrote Pribonic.
The maximum amount the board of control can approve in Cuyahoga Falls and Tallmadge is $50,000, and in Hudson, the maximum level is $25,000, according to Pribonic.
Lowdermilk said If the expenditure approval requirement had been lower, Council would’ve been aware of a Fox Den pavilion project and the hiring of a professional fundraiser for the city center project "much sooner." Council Member Mike Rasor (At Large) said he agreed with Lowdermilk that those two items should’ve come before Council for its review.
Wren said if Council had to approve each expenditure higher than $9,000, it would’ve had to vote on 108 more pieces of legislation in 2018 and 117 additional items through September of this year. He noted the amount of time involved with preparing the additional legislation needed to be considered as Council decided whether it would make this change.
"Mr. Lowdermilk, I assume it’s not your intent that we’d be adding 117 more items of routine expenditures into our typical scrutiny, or is it?" asked Rasor.
Lowdermilk noted it was not his intent to do that, but said, "I think what you get with [lowering the expenditure approval level] is a better understanding of projects."
Rasor suggested Council examine adding language requiring its review for expenditures where a new vendor is being used or when a contract is being considered that is "outside the ordinary course of business." He added he wanted to know if there is a legal precedent for having a "dual standard" where there is both a certain spending amount that Council must approve and a list of specific types of spending items that legislators must sign off on.
Reporter Phil Keren can be reached at 330-541-9421, email@example.com, or on Twitter at @keren_phil.