Should Louws Have Greater Independent Spending Power? / Facebook post, Whatcom Hawk, Wendy Harris

council agenda purchasing system

8 hrs  June 25, 2016  Wendy Harris

One item that is back on the county council agenda (and is not related to the comp. plan) is the attempt by the executive to increase the amount of money he can spent on a contract project, or on hiring consultants, without council approval. The alleged basis for this was increased effeciency.. i,e. avoiding the time and resources of going through the county council. I think this is a bad idea and I sent a letter to the council when this first appeared on the agenda 2 weeks ago, (posted below).

Subject: Objection to amendment of Purchasing System, Sec. 3.08

Please do not voluntarily cede your power to the Administrative Branch by agreeing to the changes proposed under WCC 3.08. There are two “red flag” buzzwords that I look for when I read a proposal…. greater flexibility or increased efficiency. From what I have witnessed, these terms are generally used when the administration wishes to increase its power and reduce its accountability. One of the things that I like best about county government is that we have a council with a real voice and with real power. City and County councils are generally more responsive to public input and provide better public transparency because things are discussed at open meetings. I see less of that from our Executive Branch. Therefore, I do not believe that the proposed amendments are in the public’s best interest.

I do not think that it is that helpful to compare Whatcom County to the counties of King, Pierce or Snohomish, all of which are have much larger populations, bigger budgets and require costlier work projects. It would be more appropriate to express the $250,000 as a percentage of total operational funds. Viewed in that light, I suspect there would be much greater disparity in the authority the executive is requesting. A better comparison to Whatcom County would be the spending authority of the executive branch in Skagit, Island or San Juan counties.

I also ask that you consider a fact that makes Whatcom County unique, and which has implications for this proposal. We have a rather evenly divided and polarized community. Because of this, it is even more important to have spending matters handled in an open and transparent manner with an opportunity for public input. Most people here would consider $250,000 a great deal of money. I certainly do.

Finally, I do not think that this is the appropriate time to be granting the county executive greater discretion in spending. Many residents were upset over the incident involving the jail mailer near the election and this generated a number of complaints that were filed with the PDC. I am not sure if this is all cleared up by now, but certainly this a fresh memory for many people. They will be angered by any attempt to increase the executive’s spending power, seeing this as proof of some “good ole boy (and girl)” system that hands out special privileges that allow some to skirt the rules. And if we are requesting approval for levies and tax increases for EMS services, a new jail, or remodeling the county building, this is another reason that the timing is simply wrong.

I understand that both the county council and the executive and his staff work extremely hard and put in long hours for low pay. At the same time, however, I do not see the existing system and standards as unduly burdensome. In most situations that I happened to witness, the council is rather deferential to the executive, and when they are not, it generally involves matters of controversy that deserve a more protracted period of public review and opportunity for input.

Efficiency, in and of itself, does not override the above concerns. Therefore, I ask that you not move this proposal forward for vote and approval.

Wendy Harris

Read Wendy’s post in the Whatcom Hawk Facebook group here.

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