Whatever other merits it might contain, the provision in a proposed interlocal agreement limiting the Park Board of Trustees’ capital spending decisions to $10,000 or less seems overly restrictive and counter to the stated aim of increasing government efficiency.

The Daily News hasn’t seen the draft agreement, which was created during a review of assets managed by the park board, but we’ve submitted an open records request for the documents.

The one detail that has leaked — a provision requiring city council approval for any park board capital spending of $10,000 or more — is puzzling, however, given the review was supposed to be about streamlining government to achieve greater efficiency. The council already must approve park board expenditures of $125,000 or more, which seems restrictive enough to safeguard the public money at issue here.

When the city set out more than a year ago to review how the park board and Port of Galveston, a utility of the city also governed by an autonomous board appointed by the city council, had been managing municipal assets, officials talked about finding efficiencies and eliminating redundancies.

That’s a laudable goal, but it’s hard to see how the proposed spending limit would yield the efficiencies Galveston Mayor Jim Yarbrough and City Manager Brian Maxwell have said was the mission of the asset review. The city council of late has struggled to make swift decisions about hot-button issues, deferring action to another month. Is the city council, challenged to conduct its own business, ready to take over the park board’s too?

The $10,000 threshold, for all intents and purposes, gives the city council complete control of park board spending, essentially stripping the Park Board of Trustees of its powers, while bogging down both park board and city business.

There’s also some irony to note. City officials have complained about, and even floated a charter amendment in 2016 to remove, the requirement that the city staff seek council approval on purchases and contracts that cost more than $15,000. The city, rightfully, sought to replace the limit with a requirement that the city follow state laws, which would have required competitive bids on expenses of more than more than $50,000. The Daily News supported the attempt to change the charter, understanding how routine business might grind to a halt waiting for the city council to convene and vote. Voters, however, shot it down.

Camps formed long ago around the city’s asset review. Park board staff leaders have openly said they see the move as a hostile takeover. Yarbrough and Maxwell, leading the charge, reiterate the need for efficiencies and a desire to provide a more transparent look at park-board managed assets, which includes pavilions and beach amenities around the island.

There’s little downside in a scenario in which the organizations could save money and minimize redundancies. But this is altogether a different proposition.

Whoever controls the purse strings controls the park board, which oversees a $28 million budget and drives tourism, key to Galveston’s economy.

There’s nothing wrong with the city reviewing public assets, in fact, the public should encourage it. There’s nothing wrong about cutting waste and duplicate tasks.

But there’s nothing efficient about the city’s efforts to take on procurement and budget decisions for the park board, which by the way, would make the Park Board of Trustees redundant.

• Laura Elder

Editor’s note: In coming days, The Daily News plans to explore the origins of the park board, how it was formed and why it operates separately from the city.

 Laura Elder: 409-683-5248; laura.elder@galvnews.com

Managing Editor

(16) comments

Brian Maxwell

For the last time I hope to clarify this once again since the GDN cannot get it right. The $10,000 limit concerns buildings managed by the Park Board, not all capital expenditures.

What is says is that if a routine maintenance cost exceeds $10,000 that they consult the city before spending that much on one of our buildings. That is twice the threshold the city uses to define a “capital expenditure” in terms of a repair to a building.

This is to keep the Park Board from spending money on a city owned building that the city may want to go in a different direction.

I have gone through this time and time again with the GDN reporter and the entire concept seems to be above what can be comprehended.

An example would be Stewart Beach Pavillion. If a repair were to exceed $10,000, such as a roof, all we ask is to be notified so we could decide if we want that much tax payer money invested at that time or should we look at other options for the building.

This IS NOT SEEKING APPROVAL OF ALL CAPITAL EXPENDITURES OVER $10,000. Only those as it relates to city owned assets.

I would suggest that any reporter who would cover a beat at the city come and attend Galveston University so that they might understand the concepts they are often tasked with covering such as the difference between capital and maintenance items.

Brian Maxwell

Brian Maxwell

Further, all current documents ALREADY state the Park Board is responsible for maintenance and the city for capital expenditures on city owned and Park Board managed assets. This seeks to quantify and define that threshold. Any maintenance item left unattended long enough certainly becomes a capital item eventually and we seek to further ensure that proper maintenance is being done so that the tax payers do not waste their money on replacing items that suffered from deferred maintenance. Imperative when discussions are being had to invest $25 million in public infrastructure that the tax payers will be tasked with maintaining correct?

This is not a conspiracy to take over the Park Board. Simply not true and a concerning statement by anyone tasked with managing public funds. It’s good government. The new interlocal agreement should clarify current agreements and make sure TAX DOLLARS are spent efficiently and to also make sure none are wasted so more of the tourism dollars can go where they need to go......PROMOTING TOURISM and leaving the more mundane items to the city where we have contracts and staff to handle things that the Park Board does not have or would have to spend to replicate. Such as CAPITAL REPAIRS AND REPLACEMENT. It also ensure that the tax payers who pay for these repairs and replacement are doing so in the most efficient and cost effective manner.

So Laura, it is EXACTLY what the mayor and I have said repeatedly.

Very sorry you were not given the full and correct facts before opining on the subject. As a city we give an inordinate amount of time and access to GDN as we view transparency as our number one priority in serving the citizens. Please please please don’t hesitate to call anytime to verify facts or ask any question. That’s what we are here for and always glad to share what we do at the city.

lauraelder Staff
Laura Elder

This is the first we've heard of any error in reporting about this issue. We agree this city administration has always been very transparent. The situation I based my editorial doesn't seem that much different than what you described here. Would they or would they not have to seek city council approval for $10,000 or more? We understand the protocols involved here, but it's time the city released the actual draft document so nobody will have to take anybody's word for it. And thank you for providing us the additional details.

Brian Maxwell

It asks for notification and conferral. It is a draft agreement. Nothing is final. These are all talking points. Your editorial says all capital expenditures.....that would mean buying cars, tractors, furniture, etc. that is very very misleading.

Marissa has spoken and complained to your reporter about the inaccuracies, to the point that we have asked to respond to her in writing just to make sure it is accurate.

This entire deal is getting spun out of control to distract from the main purpose and to get people to focus on things that are galaxies or half truths.

You guys are better than that....please don’t fall prey to that tactic.

Perhaps you and even Michael should meet with us because my concern is the reporter does not understand what we are saying to her and absent the final document that will be agreed to by all parties, it is hard to understand.

Jarvis Buckley

It appears the city manager may be a little aggravated by your article.

Brian Maxwell

Jarvis,

Could never be aggravated at Laura. However when you build something based on a mistake to begin with it gets further and further out there and further from the truth.

It begin with the initial accuracy of the data collected by the reporter. The reporter has been asked to correct it. She is pretty good....this is just a very complex issue and needs to be reported accurately so that a different spin isn’t placed on it.

George Croix

Be patient.
The GDN ran a completely bogus 'damage picture' of the Isom blast for the better part of 3 YEARS, often front page...a picture not even of the Isom, and in fact of a process unit that always looks dark and dirty and is over a mile away from the blast area, and was totally unaffected.
Not until I emailed Dolph directly did that stop.....he said he was never told.....
Now, I'd bet Laura will get it corrected as needed.....

Jarvis Buckley

Brian

I agree with you. Never be aggravated with Laura. You explained
the city's position well.
I believe the complexity of the draft may have caused the misunderstanding. My bet is its all good now.

Jarvis Buckley

Laura, on a different issue how is the Byrd beach project investigation coming. You mentioned several weeks ago another reporter was working on it. I don't recall reading
any more about it. What's the status
Of the project?

lauraelder Staff
Laura Elder

Hi Jarvis. Here's what we reported on Oct. 1. It's moving ahead. We're still not quite sure how it got to the point it did, however. Most entities traded blame.
https://www.galvnews.com/news/article_ebb8a374-d2c3-5081-b373-0ce394b1f63b.html

Raymond Lewis

Good piece Laura. Informative. If the city is not careful, it could bog down the city as well as the Park Board. If transparency is the issue, have the city council appointed park board of trustees provide more transparency.

Charlotte O'rourke

Currently the ordinance that created and governs the Park Board limits control and management requiring council approval in three areas: 1) length of contracts greater than 3 years. 2). ANY capital expense, and 3). Repairs and maintenance greater than $125,000.

So, wouldn’t a $10,000 (versus ANY) capital expense be an increased amount and not a tighter more restrictive control?

All of these limitations are currently listed as requiring council approval NOW. One hopes these management rules are being followed.

I’m confused on the degree of distrust and expressions of a hostile city takeover from unnamed sources.

Knowing the individuals, it is difficult for me to believe that the mayor and city manager are namby-panbies that are too spineless to say what their goals really are.

I don’t believe the audit review is a takeover of either Parks or Wharves Boards, and hope the groups work together to achieve joint community goals.

Rusty Schroeder

Brian, you hired the best reporter they had away from them. Your lucky you didn't get the guy that was fired or quit a few months back. Then you would really have been upset reading, "Maxwell said" fifty times in the article.

Brian Maxwell

I get reminded regularly by Laura and Michael that we took a good one.....and she truly is great at what she does! Lol

Jarvis Buckley

Thanks Laura👍

Raymond Lewis

It would not be in the best of interest of the city to abolish the Park Board. Something else seems to be going on here and I cannot quite figure it out.

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