Akron removes budget provision that allowed mayors to approve contracts without council OK
Akron officials have decided to remove a decades-old provision in the city’s budget that allowed the mayor to approve some high-priced contracts without getting city council’s approval.
The provision, known as Section 56 in the city’s budget, caused controversy earlier this year when it was discovered during budget hearings.
If officials in any city department want to work with an outside company, Akron’s municipal code requires them to put contracts worth more than $50,000 before city council for its review.
Section 56, however, allowed mayors to authorize certain “consulting” or “professional” contracts in excess of $50,000 without council’s input. Akron mayors exercised the provision for decades before city council members brought it up this year.
Last year, Mayor Dan Horrigan approved 173 such contracts for a total of more than $30 million — all without council’s approval.
During budget hearings earlier this year, several council members, including incoming mayor Shammas Malik, expressed concern that the provision allowed mayors to “pick and choose” which contracts to bring before council.
Horrigan and his administration have agreed to remove the provision from the budget, according to a resolution introduced to city council Monday.
“City Council believes that removal of Section 56 from future budget ordinances will provide Council and, in turn, Akron residents with a more accurate and real-time snap shot of the activities of the City Administration and that the same is in the best interests of the City,” the resolution states.
During budget hearings in March, opposition to Section 56 was so staunch that five councilmembers – Malik, Linda Omobien, Tara Mosley, Nancy Holland and Russ Neal - refused to approve the city’s budget unless the provision was revised or removed entirely.
In May, council formed a committee of council members and representatives from city departments to consider changing Section 56.
In city council’s rules committee meeting Monday, Malik said those conversations were fruitful.
“I’m glad that we have gotten to a point where we are not moving forward with Section 56,” Malik said. “We have dealt with this in a way that, I think, has reflected the concern that I’ve heard from citizens and this council. Hopefully we have a way going forward that is workable.”
While budget hearings will take place early next year, the city’s law department has already requested $2 million for 2024 contracts for professional legal services. The department occasionally needs to hire outside counsel for certain cases or when the volume of cases is too much for the department’s staff, law director Eve Belfance said during council’s rules committee meeting Monday.
Council members Malik, Holland and Mosley suggested council ask for regular reports from the law department, or other departments that request blanket funds to be used for future contracts, about where the money is being spent and the status of the budget.
“If we’re passing some sort of ‘carve-out’ legislation, that we as council should include some language about how [council’s oversight over a contract] would occur,” Malik said. “Whatever it’s going to be, I think that should be reflected in whatever passes here.”
Council voted to take time to consider the resolution about Section 56 as well as the law department’s request for funds.