Debate about whether Charlotte city manager should be able to spend up to $500K without council consent

Charlotte City Manager pushes for flexibility spending your tax dollars

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Charlotte City Council will soon vote on a resolution that is recommending giving the city manager the authority to award contracts up to $500,000 without getting consent from council members.

Currently, the city manager has delegated authority for up to $100,000.

Not everyone agrees with the proposal to increase it.

“I’m not against the city manager being able to purchase things at $500,000 without the city council approval as long as it’s not something that can violate a person’s civil liberties,” said Robert Dawkins of Safe NC. “Any purchases that the city manager makes that are concerned with crowd control equipment, surveillance equipment, militarized equipment have to be voted on and approved in the affirmative by the city council.”

Dawkins points out that as the city geared up for the 2012 Democratic National Convention, Charlotte Mecklenburg Police (CMPD) outfitted the department with crowd control and surveillance equipment.

“In a city that’s had a history of buying equipment without city council’s consent like they did with the last convention for the stingray equipment coupled with the commitment that came after the Keith Lamont Scott shooting and the trouble that we had there as far as people believing the police were over militarized in their response,” Dawkins is worried that the city manager could buy items that would violate civil liberties and council members wouldn’t know.

“We don’t think the city council should be excluded from making decisions when it comes around purchases of militarized, surveillance and crowd control equipment,” said Dawkins.

“It’s become very clear to me that raising the manager’s authority to $500,000 makes all the sense in the world,” said Council Member Tariq Bokhari. “There’s a level of bureaucracy that exists in city government already and having a cap at $100,000 means that basic decisions to do basic things doesn’t take a week - it takes 12-to-13 weeks just because of this process.”

Bohkari says from his perspective, there’s a solution on this issue.

“Manager, you have up to $500,000 in authority but when you buy military grade equipment that has to come to us,” said Bohkari. “My broader point has always been let’s let him have the authority needed to move this bureaucracy quicker and more nimbly while doing our work and saying these are the items we need to be able to see ahead of time.”

Council member Braxton Winston says he sees the issue differently.

“There’s a couple of things that concern me. One is transparency issues. I understand that we always need to look at efficiency and modernize the way we do government,” said Winston. “But there needs to be a balance for the public to be able to see and ask questions about this. We represent the public voice. If we do make these changes I want to see a process that allows for that questioning to happen.”

Winston says he believes there ought to be transparency whether the city manager is spending on police equipment and big and small ticket items.

“There needs to be a balance for the public to be able to see and ask questions about this. We represent the public voice. If we do make these changes I want to see a process that allows for that questioning to happen,” said Winston. “To do it in a way that the community feels comfortable about and I’m concern we will lose a good opportunity to have some of those policy discussions and really take a look under the hood about how tax dollars are spent and how we do business.”

“I think you have to look at the city manager’s track record and look at the bigger issues we need to concentrate on,” said Council Member James Mitchell. “This is a small one. I don’t understand why we need to handicap him $100,000.”

Mitchell says he believes council has bigger issues on its hand.

“Here’s what the city council should concentrate on: $50M affordable housing bond just approved. How do we get the units up? How do we make sure our goal line is coming on track? Me particular - how to create jobs?” said Mitchell.

Mitchell says raising the city manager’s delegated spending authority doesn’t mean council will be out of the loop.

“This city manager I trust,” said Mitchell. “This city manager reports to 12 other people and I think if there was a concern about something he approved, we have the right to ask him to bring it back to council.”

Council members were scheduled to vote on raising the city manager’s spending but the meeting was scheduled because of weather.

It’s unclear when the item will be on the agenda again.

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