independence council procurement policy

By Mike Genet
The Examiner

Aiming to give the Independence City Council more oversight on city contracts, one council member proposed cutting the dollar threshold required for council approval and sending all professional service contracts to the council for review.

Several appear to agree with Brice Stewart’s idea to require that contracts greater than $50,000 have council approval, as was the case two years ago, before the council raised that number to $100,000.

But not all are keen about putting all contracts on the council agendas, especially for the extra time it would take. Rather than amend Stewart’s proposal Monday, a council majority voted to postpone the issue until the April 19 meeting.

According to city staff, Independence enters into about 300 professional services contracts each year, ranging from work with architects and engineers to insurance companies and attorneys. 

Mayor Eileen Weir said the $100,000 threshold is “pretty high” and that she would consider lowering it, as that would be more in line with peer cities, but did object to reviewing every contract.

“I think this council in the last year has shown an incredible job of streamlining services, eliminating red tape and bureaucracy for businesses,” Weir said. “This runs absolutely in the opposite direction.”

Stewart said he proposed the changes so the council could “better control of the money we’re spending” and to avoid a situation in which the council voted down a contract but several smaller “piecemeal” contracts would be issued without needing approval. That practice came up in a state auditor’s report about Jackson County operations (Stewart works in the county’s IT department). 

Council Member Dan Hobart said he appreciated Stewart’s thought, but he hadn’t heard of such complaints about the city’s procurement process and thought the ordinance was a solution looking for a problem. 

“Instead of restricting the city manager, we should be looking for ways to enable that, not hamstring it, and not micromanage,” Hobart said. “My job is to review the city manager recommendations and make a best decision based on that for the residents.”

Council Member Karen DeLuccie agreed that with reviewing every service contract, “It will be unbelievably difficult. I don’t know that I need to read every service contract.”

Council Member John Perkins said such a change would lead to “slowdown in work,” such as a traffic study needed for a neighborhood project like current efforts in Englewood.

The policy change as Stewart proposed would affect more than two-thirds of those contracts and would add an average of 18 additional items per month on council agendas for consideration. 

“This is called transparency,” Council Member Mike Huff said in support of Stewart’s ordinance, noting that one council member has regularly questioned contracts of about $100,000, wondering if the spending was justified.

Council Member Mike Steinmeyer brought up a recent council vote against a $60,000 contract for continued work with a consultant for Independence Power & Light, which would have included advice on personnel decisions. While it might not have been the staff's intention, the contract “had the appearance of maybe back-dooring the council,” and the council questioned it and unanimously nixed it.  

“I support the idea that we need to rein in our costs and make our city team more accountable,” he said. “I don’t know why we felt the need to go outside when we have managers to make that decision.”

Stewart, Huff and Steinmeyer voted against postponing the ordinance, after the council started discussion to amend and vote on just changing the dollar threshold.

Weir noted that City Manager Zach Walker regularly provides a list of all contracts his office approves. 

“So there’s not lack of transparency,” she said. “We do see them.”