Faced with a decision on how to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars Tuesday night, several city council members said they would rather spend the money on new employees rather than hire consultants to help manage the city’s capital improvement plan.
“If you’re paying a consulting group $400,000, they’re marking things up,” Councilman Nick Long said. “This is not good long-term. I think we need to look at adding to our own project management staff.”
The reservations came despite a recommendation from city staff. After briefly mulling a resolution to do otherwise, the city council in a 5-3 vote approved the contract Houston-based consultant Freese & Nichols on Tuesday.
The city wants the outside help to figure out ways to increase the number of city projects that finish on time and on budget, City Manager John Baumgartner said.
About 80 percent of city projects are completed on time and on budget, Baumgartner said. The city’s newly passed strategic plan calls for the city to improve that number to 90 percent.
The request came the same night the city council considered allocating money from the budget to hire a senior project manager and a land specialist for a total of about $267,000, officials said.
Hiring the consultants will allow city staff time to hire good staff and gives them time to get up to speed while also increasing project efficiency, Baumgartner said.
Several council members objected to the specifics of that plan.
“I’d rather see us invest more in hiring people,” Councilman Dan Becker said. “We need to aggressively pursue and hire people. I can’t support this motion.”
Instead of spending so much on consultants — which is considered on an hourly basis — the city should allocate more of that money to competitively hire people, Becker and Long said.
Long proposed spending up to $199,000 in consulting fees, with a caveat that city staff had to return with a plan to hire a senior manager.
“I realize it’s ambitious, but this will buy you six months,” Long said. “If it hasn’t happened by then, I want to know why. If there’s a good reason, we can extend it.”
Long’s motion failed in a 4-4 vote, with councilmen Larry Millican, Todd Kinsey, Greg Gripon and Mayor Pat Hallisey opposed.
“Our job, ultimately, is not to administer the city,” Kinsey said. “We are all confident in the city manager, and he believes he needs this.”
Millican, who began the conversation by saying he couldn’t support spending that much on consultants, eventually said he could support it if it is limited to a short time period.
All of the money for the changes can be made without making changes to the budget and will be managed through savings in the police department, city staff said.