April 6, 2000

Misuse Of Consent Agenda Adds To Budget Explosion


By Jon A. Brake

For many years the City of Manhattan has used the Consent Agenda to hide problems and budget swelling items.
The Consent Agenda is to be used for those items of routine and housekeeping nature or those items, which have
previously been reviewed by the City Commission.

Rather than take the minutes, second reading of an ordinance, and appointments by the mayor, as individual
items, they are grouped together and passed as the Consent Agenda. The idea is good. The results are bad. The
City uses the Consent Agenda as a place to hide items that should be considered as an individual item before the

Look at this weeks Consent Agenda. Sixteen items were passed without being discussed in public.

The Commission agreed to have the staff negotiate the purchase of a new 72-inch mower for the Parks and
Recreation Department. The item was budgeted for $26,550. This mower should have been put out for bids.
Thousands of dollars could be saved by using the bid process. Five years ago, the staff paid $16,000 for a mower
from the same company. The bid was higher than three other mower companies. To get the mower the staff
wanted, they wrote the spec requirements from the company brochure. The $16,000 mower was purchased
because no other mower could match the bid spec. Now, staff asks and receives permission from the Commission
to do away with the bidding process and negotiate a price. This can lead to higher costs of equipment and material
and can put staff members in a position that is too close to the company.

The City purchased a $38,450 backhoe by using the Consent Agenda. The bidding process again was overlooked
and a Quotation Summary was used. Staff members called four tractor and machinery companies to get quotes on
backhoes. Three companies gave quotes ranging from $38,450 to $47,159. Again using the Quotation Summary
can lead to higher costs of equipment and material and can put staff members in a position that is too close to the

The Consent Agenda was used Tuesday night for a Consulting Service Agreement worth $75,000. The Airport
Staff wanted to sign Crawford, Murphy, and Tilly, Inc. to a contract for future consulting work. It should have
been put on the General Agenda. One of the Commissioners did ask that the item be removed from the Consent
Agenda and added to the General Agenda. That was done but it was later passed as part of the Airport Master
Plan and not taken as a separate item. Three months ago the same staff members put a very controversial
building lease agreement on the Consent Agenda. The old airport terminal was leased for 20 years for $2,500 per
year. The rent will stay at $2,500 for the full 20 years.

Two Change Orders for the Water Treatment Plant Improvement Project were passed. Change Order No. 2
added $10,082.00 to the cost of the project. Change Order No. 3 added $22,297.00. More than seven per-cent of
the total project cost was added without discussion. A memo given to the Commission for Change Order No. 3
states: "In order to get the Water Treatment Plant in operation at full capacity by the peak summer water
demand season, City Administration agreed to pay the Contractor for additional labor and other associated costs
related to an accelerated time frame."

The City Administration agreed to pay! The agreement has already been made and then they bring it to the
Commission. This is how a low bid becomes more expensive than planned and budgeted.

The City's budget has gone from $26 million in 1991 to $58.7 million in 2000. The four liberal members of the City
Commission are planning on several large projects for later this year: bussing, sports complex. The Commission
needs to do a better job in holding down spending before they ask the public to finance larger projects.