Other Views: Proposal not about micromanaging City Hall
With every vote I cast on the Janesville City Council, I’m held accountable to you, the people I represent. Accountability is essential for any form of government to work well. So when some of my constituents brought to my attention the purchasing of consultants and how could we improve upon it, I immediately went to work and started my research.
In our city’s budget, there is a section for the contracting of consultants. Consultants are hired to work on various projects and add some expertise to what is being discussed. When this item is added at the time the budget is passed, it is difficult to foresee which consultants will be hired and for what purpose because much of the need for consultants is short-term work and not easy to predict.
However, the fact still remains that the cost of consultants has more than doubled in the past few years to nearly $640,000 per year of taxpayer money. Yes, you read that right, almost three quarters of a million dollars flies out of City Hall with no direct vote from the council. The cost for these consultants is showing no signs of slowing down.
I have talked with other Wisconsin city governments our size and used their language to create a proposal for Janesville similar to how they handle this issue. Under this proposal, City Manager Mark Freitag would be allowed to hire consultants up to $25,000 with no direct oversight from the council, as he does now. But if he spends over $25,000 with a consultant, he would report to the council as to why this was necessary. Then, only if he were to spend more than $75,000 on a consultant would he have to bring it before the council for a vote to continue spending taxpayer money.
If adopted, this proposal would by no means hinder Freitag from hiring necessary consultants but merely engage the council in discussions on this large budget item. As a city council, one of the tasks we are charged with is to look for ways to make our government work more efficiently and use taxpayer money in the smartest possible way.
By including the council in this matter, it opens the door for some exciting discussions, such as perhaps cutting down the consultant budget in a certain area and instead hiring more staff if we find ourselves purchasing a particular type of consultant. It is generally more cost effective to do as much work as possible in-house if large amounts are being spent in a particular area. We would also get the bonus of more jobs in Janesville, instead of hiring firms from out of the area.
What I am asking for is more transparency in City Hall, which leads to more open government, possibly leading to a financial savings, which would benefit all of Janesville. One of my colleagues made the point that this proposal didn’t go far enough, and he called for a total review of our purchasing plan.
I don’t want to make this a case of micromanaging the city manager. That’s not what this is about. This is about common sense and accountability. Hopefully the result will be more communication and us all working together.
Jens Jorgensen serves as Janesville City Council vice president.