The City Council Doesn’t Read the Contracts It Approves

July 15, 2013 23:59 by Ryan

But it really should.

Tonight’s agenda requested approval for three contracts that were not included in the packet, including one for divers to remove milfoil from Heart Lake. When I asked that it be reviewed by the City Attorney before approval, Mayor Maxwell protested that he was responsible for the attorney review and that we didn't need to worry about it.

The Mayor is wrong, of course. RCW 35A.11.010gives the City Council authority to enter the City into contracts, and that plainly includes the responsibility to ensure those contracts protect the City from needless liability and to ask for city attorney review.

Most of the time, when we’re asked to approve a contract award, we’re not shown the text of the contract. But frankly, it ought to be obvious to every councilmember that we shouldn’t approve contracts we haven’t been given. There is no reason we should be expected to trust that the mayor’s administration is handling contracts correctly.

This point was driven home for me in March when we did see a contract with the Parks Foundation where the scope included work by volunteers over the water at the Ship Harbor Interpretive Preserve. The one-page agreement, which the City Attorney had not seen, did not contain a period of performance, termination date, detail on billing or payment, specificity in the work to be performed, or liability, insurance, or indemnification provisions. I asked for these standard provisions to be added to the contract, but Councilmember Geer moved to approve it as-is. I voted no.

More recently, the Council approved a resolution for a $10,000 tourism contract. The last line of the resolution said a copy of the contract was attached; it wasn’t. The resolution was for a $10,000 contract, but the proposal that the contract was supposedly funding had a $25,000 scope of work. Staff were not able to answer my questions about what the contract’s scope of work would contain.

The biggest issue in this year’s election is the Tethys contract from three years ago, where the City approved a long-term agreement to sell off 5 million gallons of water per day. Negotiations were in secret, and not even city councilmembers knew of the contract before it was presented for approval. (That was markedly different from how the City of Everett treated its Tethys contract negotiations, with in-public city council discussions with their legal staff.) That contract was so expertly-negotiated that Tethys was able to lock up 5 million gallons of Anacortes water per day, that we’re not able to sell to anyone else, without paying a dime for it over the last three years.

And now the City is repeating that sorry chain of events by needlessly concealing the fact that we’re preparing to contract with the Samish Tribe to provide municipal services to their future casino. The City Council has received no public briefings on the draft agreement, and had no opportunity to vet that agreement with the public.

After tonight’s meeting, Councilmember Bill Turner angrily asserted to me that other city councils don’t get to see their contracts either. While I’m sure that’s what the mayor has told him, it’s also not true. Here are links to the meeting packets for the Oak Harbor and Sedro-Woolley city councils. Each packet includes the text of the contracts on the agenda. Their mayors don’t ask their city councils to approve contracts they haven’t seen.

We ought to have standardized agreements written in plain language, approved by the city attorney, with each scope of work reviewed before it is submitted to the City Council for final approval. These are obvious reforms that a professional city administrator would implement immediately. But until that happens, if our city councilmembers are interested in doing their jobs, they need to start refusing to approve contracts they haven’t been given.

Comments (3) -

Kristi Hein

July 16, 2013 10:17

Ryan, I couldn't agree more. I sure hope we soon will have more city council members who will stand up for what is right. This is downright scary.

Kristi Hein

Tim Walters

July 20, 2013 13:04

Our mayor, at some point and may have already without our knowledge, is going to get the city into financial hotwater which means we will utimately pay for his bad decisions.

Tim Walters

Anne Ciochetto

August 5, 2013 13:28

100% with you on this one.  For some reason, Ronald Reagan's advice, "trust but verify," comes to mind.

Anne Ciochetto

Comments are closed