Bid process vital for city

Published 10:13 am Tuesday, October 13, 2009

What exactly constitutes an emergency and how much money should be allowed to be spent without going to bid?

Those are two questions that the Ironton City Council — either the current one or the group that takes over in December — should take a long, hard look at very soon.

Until earlier this year, Ironton’s mayor had to bid out any project or service that cost more than $5,000. The goal was to ensure that every viable business has a fair chance to perform any given service and to ensure taxpayers get the lowest or best job for their money. Anything higher could also be deemed an emergency and done at the mayor and council’s discretion.

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Council changed that earlier this year when it opted to increase that threshold by 400 percent to $25,000.

That means the city’s mayor — and this isn’t meant as criticism of Rich Blankenship — can spend a very sizeable amount of money with virtually no public discussion or checks and balances.

This poses serious concerns for the present as the city has recently used this expansion to award several contracts and also for the future because it greatly increases the potential for abuse.

There are very few true emergencies that require the mayor to spend that level of money immediately. Proposals should go in front of the council, given the full three readings, and then be bid out.

But even that doesn’t ensure public discussion.

Ironton’s council — the current group and past incarnations — have been notorious for passing ordinances as an “emergency” without three consecutive readings or bids. Many of these items aren’t true emergencies but are rushed through because of poor planning.

City leaders will argue that the public rarely attends the meetings, so little is gained by going through the process, but that argument doesn’t hold up.

The bottom line is that bidding out projects and allowing the entire process to run its course protects the public and their tax dollars.