If Galveston voters are asked to this year, they should approve a ballot proposal that would raise the threshold at which the city manager must seek expenditure approval from the Galveston City Council.
The old threshold is so outdated, it’s burdensome and contributes to an unnecessary bureaucracy that only serves to slow down business, not curb government spending.
The city council might propose a slew of changes this year meant to update the charter, and raising the city manager’s purchasing limit above the current $15,000 would update the document, Mayor Jim Yarbrough said late last month.
“Back when that handcuff was placed on, $15,000 would buy you a new car and a lot of other things,” Yarbrough said. “It hasn’t changed in 40 years. Now $15,000 won’t even get your car repaired, much less buy you a new one if you get into a wreck.”
In 2016, voters narrowly shot down a similar measure which would have allowed City Manager Brian Maxwell to purchase items that cost less than $50,000. It was defeated by 45 votes. Perhaps that was an old, residual sentiment that Galveston city staff couldn’t be trusted to make smart spending choices.
A little leeriness about doling out public money is healthy and commendable. But $15,000 is extreme and grinds business to a halt, and in some cases is more costly. It unnecessarily burns up staff time and bogs down city council meetings and represents the epitome of government bureaucracy.
Waiting as long as 30 days for the next city council meeting, when those expenditures must be approved, can cause challenges in getting work done with contractors, Maxwell said.
“What was a lot of money 20 years ago is not a lot of money today,” Maxwell said. “It just slows the wheels of our movement down quite a bit.”
Rarely does the city council reject city spending requests and cities operate equipment or need supplies to serve the public that cost more than $15,000 and need to be replaced or procured quickly.
What the city staff is asking won’t allow anything to be done secretly or outside of standard and widely accepted procurement practices. It would streamline purchasing and contracting and remove from the staff the burden of running down cost estimates on routine low-dollar spending.
State law allows a city to update its charter once every two years. Amendments to a city charter are fairly common.
If island voters are asked to, they should approve raising the spending threshold.
• Laura Elder