by Tony Rutherford HuntingtonNews.Net Reporter
Sandra Clements, new council vice chair
Sandra Clements, new council vice chair

HUNTINGTON, WV (HNN) – The harshness of the last two winters under most circumstances would make purchasing a salt spreader almost a no brainer. But, Huntington Mayor Kim Wolfe purchased one spreader after council rejected authorization to purchase two of them. The Mayor did not usurp council; he called Finance Chairman Steve Williams (and others) for an opinion on the purchase of one spreader, which would be under the approval limit.

Unfortunately, despite dropping from two to one, the city is under a non-essential item spending freeze. Wolfe touched based with some, but did not inform all of his decision. Those not informed expressed their perceived lack of respect of the decision to purchase one; those informed believed the decision within the power of the administrative branch.

Adding gravel and sleet to the decision, the one new emergency purchase spreader will not arrive until Friday, January 14, but this makes it just in time for the next round of snow.

Two salt spreaders would have cost $24,000, which is above the $15,000 purchase limit imposed by council. Items over that amount require council approval. The $15,000 limit was raised in 2010 after staying at $5,000 since 1985. Various departments complained that a low limit prevents them from timely purchases and delays the acquisition time due to the month necessary to clear two council readings.

All council members were not informed of the decision to purchase one spreader; but, Mayor Wolfe conferred with Steve Williams. Williams in an email opined the administration was within its power considering the $15,000 limit, to purchase ONE spreader ten foot spreader for $11,000.

At the meeting , Williams took responsibility for his advice. Apologized to council and said he should have polled the finance committee before reacting. Williams, an investment banker, is a former city manager of Huntington.

“Let’s deal with the elephant. I wasn’t the ONLY member talked to. The Mayor asked ,what do you think, can I [purchase one] under the $15,000 limit ? “ Williams told Wolfe to send him an e-mail so he could respond that he believed the purchase of one was within the power of the administration. “I should have talked to the other members of the finance committee,” Williams told council.

Councilman Jim Ritter led the charge to slap the limit down to $5,000. “We have a tight budget, layoffs, and a four day work week.” Echoing Ritter’s concerns, Frances Jackson stated that the administration had not described the purchase of two spreaders as “emergencies.”

Philosophically, Nate Randolph called the salt spreader debate “the worse choice for a sacrificial lamb,” involving administrative expenditures following the freeze. He believes the original two salt spreader no vote was a ‘symbolic’ one for reigning in the purchasing of equipment that occurred in 2010.

Councilman Russ Houck asked Brandi Jacobs Jones, Director of Administration and Finance, whether the one salt spreader acquisition went out to bid.

Although purchasing director, Darryl Miller, indicated the cost of one spreader was further reduced by opting for a ten foot size, Ritter asserted , “we voted unanimously to freeze the budget.” The city relied on the original bid.

Police Chief Skip Holbrook stressed that lowering the purchase limit “hampers our abilities to purchase in a timely manner,” adding that the challenge over the salt spreader purchase should not “penalize all city departments as a whole.”

Holbrook disputed the term budget freeze, stressing that the standard was “essential purchases.”

Searching for a compromise, Williams proposed keeping the $15,000 purchase limit for council approvals, but requiring that all council members be notified in writing of purchases in excess of $7,500 which would meet the “we need to know what’s going on” concern of some members.

This possible compromise came from earlier statements by Ms. Jackson who stressed “council needs to know” in a timely manner what occurred. New vice chairman Sandra Clements called the matter a “major miscommunication.”

Council agreed that $5,000 was too low a limit. A $7,500 limit passed 6-5. This will now go back to the finance committee for a review prior to the Third Reading.

 

Debate on this ordinance exceeded one hour.