Citizen fiscal scrutineer John Marshall Lee, in this commentary that he also sent to members of the City Council, highlights the purchasing policy of the city and why it matters in protecting taxpayer dollars.
Are there matters of City municipal administration where bad practices, misdemeanors or felonies are hiding in plain sight? When the City Council Budget & Appropriations Committee questioned ‘purchasing procedures’ last Monday evening (1-14-19) and news reports that investigation of Public Facilities handling of ‘scrap metal’ is in the hands of the FBI, as the CT Post headline on Friday morning attests, perhaps some attention by the average citizen is warranted. Since many purchases or handling of public property is done in ‘plain sight,’ informed minds, as well as eyes and ears, are welcome to be alert for observation and reporting for the benefit of the public.
The City of Bridgeport has a Purchasing Department and the City Council has re-worked that specific City Ordinance within the past 15 years. Competitive bidding is generally the rule for City purchases (above $1,000) so the taxpayer may assume that lowest expense is usually paid by taxpayers. Process must be followed and paperwork indicates what must be completed as to info required and filed unless such process is waived for Qualified Purchases (QP). Included are six areas of exception generally:
— Finding that there is only one qualified and available vendor, or ‘sole source’ to do work or get desired effect;
— Identifying and documentation of ‘single source’ status by department contract officer and purchasing;
— Using a single ‘special source’ with discounts or allowances that will produce a net expense lower than the cost of a competitive process;
— Time becomes a critical factor that could not have been reasonably predicted at outset;
— Purchase involves items whose prices are regulated by state or federal government;
— Purchase must comply with Federal, State or local laws or codes.
Finance Department uses MUNIS software for most City accounting, but it does not allow Purchasing Department to track contracts or perform purchasing oversight easily, as a MUNIS purchasing module might, if purchased for department use. Purchasing employs six people today rather than 13 ten years ago. Doing more with less has become their marching tune it appears, but gaining value for taxpayers also seems to be what they are about in operating within the spirit of the City Ordinance. There is also a Board of Public Purchases performing oversight with a monthly meeting schedule, though this is not attended or liaised by City Council it appears.
Personally my most critical observation of finance and purchases based on monthly financial reports from Ken Flatto rests with Ken Flatto relative to In Plant Printing. I am told that the supervisor of that facility keeps contemporaneous records of print jobs from sources other than City departments. But such revenue has not been reported by the Finance Chief in more than 15 months as report after report shows zero “revenue” accumulating based on an annual $10,000 Flatto revenue estimate. How does Director Flatto miss this? Is his phone line dead? Technology not working? Can he acquire a carrier pigeon to fly results from City Hall to the Annex? Was $10,000 a reasonable assessment by him of outside annual revenues two years ago? Why has Flatto never explained how purchases of $800,000 in excess of budget over a five-year period ($160,000 per year reported by Time Will Tell) could have balanced at year’s end without indicating equivalent revenue sources?
When the City Council has no staff member to perform routine research (as in the past until Council President Tom McCarthy performed his single-handed “expense reduction maneuver” that reduced no expenses for taxpayers) oversight becomes a taxpayer duty.
Say it again, especially this year, an election year.
Refusal to raise failed issues burdens all of us with ‘second-chance time’ that has exceeded its ‘use before’ label.
Time will tell.