ROCKVILLE — Eye rolls, shouts and 3-2 votes.
The 2013-2015 City Council concluded Monday in a manner reflective of how it spent several sessions throughout the last two years, this time with a fight over procurement.
Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton and Council member Beryl Feinberg came up on the short end of two 3-2 votes affecting how the city manager handles public purchases.
Council members started the night on a light note, with several proclamations, the kick-off of a student-run food drive and a video paying tribute to outgoing Council member Tom Moore on his last day behind the dais.
Through the first 14 agenda items, the council ran smoothly without any dissenting votes cast on any particular issue.
All of that changed after Calyptus Consulting Group president Dr. George Harris offered an uninterrupted 53-minute presentation summarizing a 220-page report about the city’s procurement process.
Harris told the council members city staffers did not engage in any fraud or misconduct through their purchases but the process and outcome of their requests created other problems.”
“There is a low level of customer satisfaction,” said Harris.
Once Harris concluded his speech, Newton and Feinberg demanded the council act that night to address at least two of the recommendations offered by Harris.
Feinberg mentioned the Calyptus recommendations could save the city $3.1-$4.96 million. She motioned to allow a 30-day window for the city manager to put together a new reporting structure for purchasing affecting the finance director and purchasing director.
Her motion countered council member Julie Palakovich Carr’s motion, which to directed the city manager “to come back in 90 days with a response to the study and that we ask the financial advisory board to also weigh in.”
“I think 90 days is going to take this report and put it on the shelf,” replied Feinberg sternly.
“I have to say that I’m stunned by that motion, council member,” Newton told Palakovich.
Newton later added, “We’re spending $1.2 (million) a week on procurement, 60 percent of our budget. Why would we wait another 90 days when we’ve got the information right here? I’m flabbergasted. We need a culture change here. This is very, very important. This was a damning report.”
That left council member Virginia Onley, who seconded Palakovich Carr’s motion, as the swing vote with Moore firmly behind his top ally Palakovich Carr.
Newton and Feinberg vehemently disagreed with waiting 90 days.
The mayor even slung herself back in her chair, rolled her eyes up, looked at the ceiling and muttered something unintelligible.
“I think it is fair to have 90 days to allow the staff to really chew into this and to allow the new mayor and council, at least one of which, maybe five of which, will be new, and really learn these issues and make a decision as they lead the city for the next four years,” said Moore.
The problem for Newton and Feinberg was that while they attempted to dissect the arguments by Moore and Palakovich Carr in favor of waiting 90 days, they did not direct their arguments in a way to persuade Onley, who they needed to claim a 3-2 majority on two motions.
In fact, Onley revealed during an interview after the council meeting that she considered offering a 60-day window, a compromise between Palakovich Carr’s 90-day proposal and Feinberg’s 30-day counterproposal.
However, at the dais, Onley asked city manager Barbara Matthews how much time she wanted and Matthews made the case for extra time.
“I thought 90 days was a bit long but I really want the city manager to take a strong look at this and make some strong recommendations about how we’re going to move forward,” said Onley.
At one point, the debate became personal between council members when Moore told Feinberg she shouldn’t refer to procurements as the “step-child” of city government.
“I’m going to take mild exception to the way that purchasing is characterized negatively as a step-child. As someone who has step-children, I can assure you that they’re as well-loved as all my children and I believe that is true here as well so we should watch our words on that,” said Moore.
Feinberg replied by doubling down on her word choice.
“In terms of step-children, yes, I’m going to hold to that. I have nothing on a personal level,” she said, “but I am going to say it has not been getting the attention. If it did, there would have been suggestions coming forth.”
To Harris, the council missed a golden opportunity to approve non-controversial items he recommended that night by spending so much time debating one particular issue.
“I think they focused on the organizational component completely instead of things like getting some wins in place to save the city money,” he said.