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.