ST. PETERSBURG — City Council members advanced a measure on Thursday that would lower the contract threshold for Council approval to $75,000, down from $100,000.
The measure, which moved through the Budget, Finance and Taxation committee, was pushed by Council Chair Ed Montanari in reaction to Mayor Rick Kriseman hiring a consultant, without Council approval, to help with the Tropicana Field redevelopment.
Since January, Kriseman had been interested in hiring real estate and economic development consultants HR&A Advisors to help the city evaluate the Trop proposals it received from developers. At the time, the contract was valued at $180,000, and therefore required City Council approval.
Despite the nominal dollar figure, Council members said at the Jan. 21 meeting they required more information on the item. Rather than face a no vote, Kriseman pulled the item from consideration.
Then, on April 8, Kriseman’s administration again brought the contract forward for Council consideration. By then, the scope of service had shrunk because city officials had done much of the work, and the contract value was reduced to $140,000.
Council members, who had previously said they did not want to move on any Trop-related items until after they heard from the Tampa Bay Rays, deferred the item a week, to be considered after the team’s executive leadership made a presentation. But the day before that meeting, on April 14, Kriseman initiated the contract himself. He could do that because his administration lowered the value to $99,000, just under the Council oversight threshold.
At the time, Montanari said it was a clear attempt to circumvent Council’s authority. Kriseman denied that, saying in the course of a week, the contract scope had naturally shrunk again. At the following day’s Council meeting, Montanari proposed lowering the threshold to $50,000.
By Thursday, Montanari pressed for a reduction to $75,000. Assistant City Administrator Tom Greene said an average of 17 people must spend a total of 16 hours to get an item onto a City Council agenda, so reducing the threshold would make more work for city staff. But $75,000 would catch fewer items than $50,000.
“I don’t want staff to pay the price because someone in the administration made the decision to go around City Council,” Montanari said.
Council member Gina Driscoll pointed out that lowering the figure will also create more work for City Council, who will have to review more projects.
“That’s the price that has to be paid for the broken trust that took place,” she said.
Council member Darden Rice, who is running for mayor, requested that the lowered threshold be revisited in six months. If it’s a matter of trusting the administration, she said, by then there will be a new mayor.
The committee, which also included Council member and mayoral candidate Robert Blackmon, unanimously approved the item. It now heads to full Council for a vote.