Two Council Members Stick with Lower Purchase Limits; Label Issue One of Power, not a Salt Spreader

by Tony Rutherford HuntingtonNews.Net Reporter
Two Council Members Stick with Lower Purchase Limits; Label Issue One of Power, not a Salt Spreader

Respect for Council Decision an Issue?

HUNTINGTON, WV (HNN) – Councilman Jim Ritter sponsored the ordinance that would return to $5,000 as the expenditure amount which City of Huntington departments could purchase without approval of council.

He compromised when at large councilman Steve Williams proposed $7,500. By one vote council voted to adopt the $7,500 limit. Mayor Wolfe vetoed.

Ritter told HNN Monday night, Feb. 7, he does not have the votes necessary to override the veto. “As long as he can show me where all the money is being spent, I’ll be happy,” the councilman said.

However, “we operated for years with $5,000,” why stay with the upward modification approved in 2009. Ritter emphasized, city council members, not the mayor, can be held personally responsible as stewards of public funds. For the sake of council compromise, Ritter agreed to a $7,500 limit.

Underlying the spending limit is the purchase of one salt spreader after council turned down buying two. Thus, the decision came down not to a piece of equipment or spending amount but power and respect.

“I didn’t even think about [the salt spreader]. That’s a non-issue with me,” Ritter said. He referred to the budget non-essential purchase spending freeze and worries about “staying in the budget.” Ritter continues to object to the salt spreader as qualifying as an “emergency purchase.”

At large councilwoman Rebecca Thacker speaks without euphemistic niceties when discussing the vetoed ordinance. Ms. Thacker does not believe the issue is about one or two salt spreaders; no, it’s about power. She told HNN that the administration had prevailed on all of its proposals --- other than the modified occupation tax --- until council voted against purchasing two salt spreaders.

“I’m well aware this is the mayor’s first veto,” Thacker explained. “The problem is council has given him everything he wanted except the occupation tax.” Referring to trimming the purchase to one, she said, “he’s going to have what he wanted no matter how he gets it. It’s not political, it’s about power.”

Ms. Thacker’s tone softened slightly when Mayor Wolfe called her in advance of the veto.

“I told Mayor Wolfe if he had handled this differently [in the first place] it may not have happened,” Thacker said, referring to Wolfe’s inquiry of two or three council members’ positions --- not all council members --- before purchasing one spreader.

Meanwhile, Ritter’s ‘respect of council’ argument goes back further --- he cites the number of top administrators who live outside the city limits. “If you live here, then, you are responsible for the debt. [Some] don’t have the respect to live here.”

The Westmoreland councilman stressed that city council members are personally accountable for budget spending, not the administration.