Oversight, or Not?

This morning’s CA reports that the Memphis City Council will be considering two charter proposals this afternoon for the November ballot. One proposal would give the Council the authority to approve Deputy Division Directors. The other would put contracts valued over $100,000 before the Council for approval.

The Charter Commission addressed then dropped the contract proposal after former Mayor Hackett joined Mayor Herenton in opposition to the increased contract oversight. As for the appointment issue, that seems to be less of a matter of debate.

Appointments

How is openly discussing the qualifications of a high level appointed official in City government a bad thing? If anything, it increases the perception of openness in government and should remove some objections, such as charges of cronyism. From my perspective this is a no-brainer no matter who the Mayor is. I want qualified people in appointed positions, and I want the opportunity to go back and review that process even if I never use it.

Contracts

Council oversight of contracts over $100,000 creates a new problem, the possibility of gaming the system. Just how long do you think it would take for shadier vendors to split up their contracts into a series of $99,999.99 contracts? No time. The truth of the matter is that placing an arbitrary threshold on oversight is a bad idea.

The second issue is the sheer volume of contracts that cross that arbitrary threshold may create a situation where other Council business is held hostage to the approval process. I would imagine that the contract that covers janitorial supplies for the city gets up near $100,000 a year. Is that really what we want the Council to be dealing with?

The third issue is that none of this would allow the Council to deal with contracts that may need to be looked at. Remember this article from the 10th. Some oversight may have saved the City thousands of dollars.

Fourth, contracts that deal with city owned buildings or public amenities should, without question, always be brought up before the Council for approval. This means sale and re-development of city land, management of Beale St., convention space, museums, all of that. These

Yes, we need oversight, but we also have to strike a balance between the time constraints of a part-time Council as well as the civic interests of oversight and openness. Arbitrary thresholds are not the answer. The answer is complete openness that allows concerned citizens as well as Council Members easy access to information that can then be brought before the Council for further oversight. How this would look is also something that needs to be debated, however, until the question gets asked under the correct frame; that all city contracts should be open to easy public inspection and Council oversight, any specifics are just pissing in the wind.

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