Thursday, June 15, 2000

Lebanon contract confusions prompt changes

Council to add work sessions, possible revisions of charter

By Cindi Andrews
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        LEBANON — After confusion over contract procedures sparked fears of a city shutdown last week, City Council is changing the way it does business.

        On the horizon: a monthly council work session on top of its two regular meetings, and a panel to recommend changes to Lebanon's charter.

        Both proposed changes are needed because of Lebanon's growth, several council members say, although they were prompted by the contract issue.

        “Basically, the charter is a pretty well-written document, but ... it grows out of when the city was very tiny and there were very few employees,” Councilman Mark Flick said.

        The finance committee last week discussed ending the practice — not permitted in the charter — of the city manager signing minor contracts without council approval. Simultaneous discussion of purchase orders led some city employees to think City Manager James Patrick could authorize no spending.

        “I believe Patrick chose to misinterpret (the discussion), and it put people in a panic,” said Councilwoman Amy Brewer. “People were truly concerned the city was going to shut down.”

        Mr. Patrick did not return a call Wednesday.

        Those fears were alleviated in a confidential legal opinion, obtained this week by the Enquirer. Mr. Patrick can approve budgeted purchases up to $15,000 that don't require a contract, according to the opinion written by City Attorney Mark Yurick.

        Mr. Flick is proposing a committee be created to update the charter, including allowing the city manager to approve some contracts.

        “I'd like to see it parallel state law,” said the finance committee chairman. The state says contracts below $15,000 don't have to go to council, but in Lebanon that's superseded by the charter.

        Mrs. Brewer, too, would like to set up a charter review committee, but she doesn't want to give the city manager more authority on contracts.

        “It doesn't matter who the city manager is,” said Mrs. Brewer, a critic of Mr. Patrick. “I'd like to see all contracts come through. City Council has to be fiscally responsible.”

        Mr. Flick said a charter amendment could probably not be brought to voters before November 2001, and in the meantime council is likely to see an increase in ordinances on contracts.

        That's part of the reason council might add a monthly work session. Members could discuss pending legislation at that meeting and continue to take the actual votes at their two Tuesday meetings.

        Mrs. Brewer says a work session could translate into fewer committee meetings.

        “We could use work sessions to be a little more focused,” Mrs. Brewer said.

        Council is holding the first work session at 7:30 p.m. Monday in Room 110 of City Hall, at 50 S. Broadway.


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