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The old threshold is so outdated, it’s burdensome and contributes to an unnecessary bureaucracy that only serves to slow down business, not curb government spending.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

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

Managing Editor

(11) comments

Mark Stevens

It's worse than just "government bureaucracy". I think Galveston's present council is responsible and honest. But in the not-too distant past there have been members who might use the power to throttle necessary spending in order to gain support for unwise "pet" issues of their own. In the fullness of time, Galveston may again see such persons. Deny them that arbitrary power, and let the City Manager and staff do their jobs.
Mark W. Stevens

David Hardee

Ditto with Mark, The recent performance dictates that restraint is the most judicious protection of public funds.

George Croix

Laura, I think your point, and that of the parties involved in seeking the increase, is valid. Very valid.
None of us could manage our own budgets and obligations now with the same bucks and procedures we did in the '70's.
And a good place to start any new thing is with competent and respected people to make it work as intended, and I think Maxwell fits that bill.
One thing is missing from your article, though.
Raise the authorization limit from 15,000 to what?

A quick check on one source of $15,000 40 years ago shows it's equal to a little over $50,000 today.

Raise the discretionary spending limit to that?
It would, essentially, just be going back to where it was 4 decades ago.
It's hard to move forward living in the past.....raise the limit.
IMO, as always..........

And, no, I don't live in Galveston, so it won't effect me, but I am very familiar with having to wait for top management level approval of what were easily, and better made, lower management decisions, and suffering the usual negative effects of so doing. I empathize with anyone having to waste time waiting for anyone else to officially bless something they are going to OK anyway...
Let the folks on any front lines have the means and authority to run their jobs more efficiently, and then hold them accountable for doing so....but don't hold them back.

Don Schlessinger

I'm all for handcuffs for public officials holding the check book of the city. I do agree with the idea that a maximum dollar amount should increase with time. The city hasn't given us a specific number they want to raise this maximum amount to, so right now my vote is no.

Brian Maxwell

State law has the upper limit, that the city can not exceed. I believe it is $50,000 but it may too have been raised slightly in recent sessions.

Don Schlessinger

Thank you. That'll be a yes

Steve Fouga

Escalating the $15K limit for inflation would be a good starting point...

George Croix

The 'a little over 50 grand' was what one source said was the 15 grand in '79 adjusted for inflation today...actually, they specified $54,000 and change.....

Jarvis Buckley

Yes raise the limit to the max. With Brian Maxwell at the helm , everything gonna be all right. Brian is in it for the long haul. Right Brian✌️.

Gary Miller

What Brian can buy without approval is not the question. What political supporters ask him to buy is what needs control. Limiting sales by political supporters is the issue needing oversight.

Jarvis Buckley

Agree with Mark 👍.

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