Some Janesville City Council members concerned about spending on consultants

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Jake Magee
Sunday, February 26, 2017

JANESVILLE—City spending on consultants has doubled since 2010, raising the concern of at least two city council members.

Councilman Jens Jorgensen began investigating how much the city spends on consultants after several residents asked him about it, he said.

According to city data shared by Jorgensen, city spending on consultants—which includes Inter-Fluve and Ayres Associates, companies hired to help design Monterey Dam removal and repair plans—has doubled since 2010. Janesville spent about $293,000 on consultants in 2010 and about $639,000 in 2016, according to the data.

Jorgensen's concern isn't that the city is frivolously hiring unneeded consultants but that there are no checks and balances in place. Under city policy, City Manager Mark Freitag can hire consultants at his discretion without council approval or notice, Jorgensen said.

Jorgensen believes the city needs an ordinance giving the city council some say in what consultants are hired.

Freitag disagrees.

When the budget and strategic plan are approved each year, the council is indirectly giving the city manager approval to hire consultants within budgeted parameters to complete strategic plan tasks, Freitag said.

“We have a very systematic process,” Freitag said. “It's proven. It's been in place for 94 years.”

Jorgensen said he contacted other Wisconsin cities and found Oshkosh has an ordinance in place that allows the city manager to hire a consultant up to a certain amount. If consultant fees exceed a set amount, the city manager has to inform the council. If fees reach a second threshold, the council gets to decide whether to continue hiring the consultant, Jorgensen said.

It's a system that could work well for Janesville, Jorgensen said.

When residents ask Jorgensen or Councilwoman Carol Tidwell why certain consultants were hired for certain amounts of money, they don't want to have to say the council had nothing to do with such decisions, they said.

Freitag believes such an ordinance is unnecessary and “steps over that micromanagement line,” he said.

“That gets into the administration aspect of what a city manager does and gets paid to do,” Freitag said.

One criticism is that such an ordinance could slow the consultant-hiring process, but that's not a real concern, Jorgensen said. Under the ordinance, Freitag still would be able to hire consultants at will and have time before fees reached thresholds triggering council notice or approval, Jorgensen said.

“We're not asking him to stop hiring consultants,” Jorgensen said. “We just want to be included in those discussions as elected officials.”

Tidwell agrees the city should be held accountable for money spent on consultants.

“Assuming that we do have a lot of money going out the door for consultants, to me it only makes sense the council be informed and have some level of oversight for what's being spent,” she said. “That's the council's job is to be a steward of the city's resources, which of course includes money.”

Jorgensen asked Freitag to use Oshkosh's ordinance as a template to draft an ordinance for Janesville as a basis for council discussion and consideration, but Freitag said he'd like to see if a majority of the council is interested before using staff resources on drafting an ordinance.

Typically, if the city manager believes a proposed ordinance makes sense, staff will generally move forward right away. But Freitag said he learned a lesson after city staff used a lot of resources to investigate paying poll workers more only for that discussion to go nowhere.

“I didn't want to get ahead of the council on this,” Freitag said. “I prefer for a majority of the council to say, 'Yeah we agree with Jens.'”

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