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Plant City Observer Friday, Dec. 1, 2017 2 weeks ago

City Manager spending power increased

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The City Commission amended city code regarding emergency spending powers on construction projects.
by: Daniel Figueroa IV Staff Writer

A pinch of trepidation, a dash of foresight and a dollop of healthy debate combined for a cocktail of preventative medicine in City Hall Monday as commissioners voted to grant more emergency spending power to the City Manager’s office.

Commissioners voted unanimously to allow a city manager the ability to spend up to $75,000 on construction contract change orders as long as the order does not exceed 10% of the original contract amount. Previously, a city manager could spend up to $50,000 on a change order.

In Plant City’s commission-manager form of government, the city manager position acts similarly to a CEO, with the commission as a board of directors. Under the city’s management structure, an expenditure must receive a favorable vote from the commission before it can be executed by the manager. However, city code also allows a city manager the ability to spend emergency funds in certain scenarios. A city manager is then required to inform the commission of any spending during the following commission meeting.

“In most instances of change orders, the cause for the change order impacts the job in such a way that it is ether going to delay the job or it could impact safety or it could impact the city monetarily in another way,” Buddy Story, Plant City’s procurement manager, said. “What this would allow the city manager to do would be to go ahead and authorize that change to take place and then, at the next commission meeting, report that change to the commission.”

Before the vote, commissioners debated whether granting more spending power to a city manager was necessary and financially responsible. Vice-Mayor Bill Dodson said if projects were monitored closely, potential issues could be seen with enough time to allow a commission vote.

“When these projects are going on and something looks like it’s going wrong, you usually know about it far enough in advance that you can take some action. I hate to think that the issue would become magnified for lack of timing and response,” Dodson said. “But I think the fiduciary responsibility that we are charged with, in addition to the administrative fiduciary responsibility the city manager is charged with, we have to be real careful with.”

With a renewed focus and investment in repairing the city’s oft-disparaged roads, Story said construction contracts are increasing. As the roads are repaired, the city is also upgrading the aging infrastructure below to extend the life of the rehabbed roads. Coordinating the logistics of multi-faceted projects like simultaneous road and utility repair can be involved and delays costly, Story said. Because of the age of the city’s utility system, it isn’t uncommon to find surprises underground because of out-of-date or inaccurate records.

Interim City Manager Kim Leinbach said in his decades of city management experience needing to spend on a change order can be rare, but when it happens it needs to be handled quickly.

“You discover on the site, on the day when something is dug up and a pipe is not where it’s supposed to be and it’s going to be detrimental to the city,” he said.

Story said amending the city code to allow more flexibility in spending can prevent such detrimental issues from forming, similarly to the handling of a recent weed outbreak in the city’s parks.

In October, Leinbach had to use similar emergency spending power to handle an outbreak of Tropical Signalgrass in some of the city’s athletic fields. The invasive and detrimental weed was exacerbated because of recent rainfall and needed to be handled right away, city officials said.

Recreation and Parks Department Director Jack Holland said if the city hadn’t jumped in when it did, spending about $56,000 on 93 acres of fields, the results could have been devastating. Inaction could have caused shutdowns, multiple treatments and potentially involved replacing portions of the bermudagrass fields. Costs down the line, Holland said, would have been significantly more than Leinbach authorized had no action been taken.

Leinbach suggested the commission approve the amendment with the caveat that the city reevaluate its efficacy in six months and decide then to keep it or revert back to the $50,000 cap. By that time, Plant City’s current search for a permanent city manager should be over and a new administrative leader found. Strategic Government Resources, an executive recruitment consulting agency, is currently helping Plant City find a new manager and expects the search to be completed by early 2018.

The unanimous vote did, however, come with caution.

“I still have reservations, but I’ll accept the thought that we are charging a professional manager to do a proper job and they’re going to do that to the best of their ability,” Dodson said. “Maybe it will work if it proves itself. I’m willing to give that opportunity to prove itself as a workable practice. I hope it works.”

Daniel Figueroa IV is a Staff Writer at the Plant City Times & Observer. He has been covering Plant City since 2017. Previously, he was the politics and veteran affairs reporter at the Ledger of Lakeland. He probably wants to ride motorcycles and trade books with...

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