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Local

A critical distinction: Dixon council looks at tweaking emergency purchase policy

City manager says assertion he violated law is 'completely and utterly ridiculous'

DIXON – The City Council is considering tweaking its emergency purchase policy following a recent $82,000 emergency expense to buy Christmas decorations.

The city code defining duties of the city manager requires prior council approval on all purchases more than $20,000 unless it’s deemed an emergency.

During a special meeting Tuesday, the council revisited the issue.

On May 31, City Manager Danny Langloss ordered more than 200 decorations from Oswego-based Temple Display to get a $35,000 discount after contacting the councilmen individually ahead of time for permission. A mixed committee of city officials and community members also had met over the course of more than a month to research decorations.

A Sauk Valley Media editorial published Saturday contended Langloss violated the Open Meetings Act by taking a straw poll of the council to buy the decorations, an assertion Langloss said during Tuesday’s meeting that was “completely and utterly ridiculous.”

Mayor Li Arellano Jr. said Langloss did not take a straw poll on voting to spend the money but asked them whether the situation constituted an emergency.

Langloss said only five people in the city have the authority to say whether something is an emergency, and that’s the council.

The council later voted 3-1 to approve the purchase at its June 4 meeting, with Arellano voting against it saying the price was too high; Councilman Mike Venier was absent.

The situation and community concerns prompted the council to discuss the policy, which was instituted to give the council more strict oversight over purchases following the transition to the city manager form of government, Arellano said.

“I personally think the policy works, and the council unanimously thinks the policy works,” he said, but did add that it could be made more clear.

The council reached a consensus Tuesday to add “time-critical expenses” to the emergency purchase policy, which would need to be voted on at a later meeting.

Councilman Kevin Marx asked whether they could have worked with the company to stretch the discount a few days without doing an emergency purchase. He also said the term “emergency” is a bit of a red herring.

They could better define what constitutes an emergency, but adding “time-critical expenses” isn’t going to do that, Marx said.

“I don’t think either are adequately defined,” he said.

Arellano said they talked about defining emergency when first crafting the policy, but kept it vague so it would be more of a judgment call and wouldn’t hinder the city manager from making decisions.

“The ordinance was never designed to block the city manager from doing his job effectively,” he said.

Councilmen Dennis Considine, Ryan Marshall and Venier said the policy could stand on its own, but tweaks are doable.

“I think it is well written and well adhered to,” Venier said, adding that they went above and beyond to follow the rules.

Langloss said the Dixon’s government is the most transparent in the area and the story should be on the savings the city is getting on different projects and by focusing on doing more work in-house, adding that the only reason the media knew about the purchase “is because we put it out there.”

The Christmas decorations purchase was not named as an emergency expense on the June 4 meeting agenda but was listed as “consideration and possible approval of purchase of Christmas decorations from Temple Display, Ltd. in the maximum amount of $90,000.”

The council originally budgeted $75,000 for the decorations.

The last page of the 53-page meeting agenda packet was a sales order made May 31 prior to the council vote on the decorations. Sauk Valley Media contacted Langloss and Arellano on June 1 asking about the purchase, and neither said it was strictly an emergency purchase, but the following Monday, they both that the potential savings constituted an emergency.

Purchasing the Christmas decorations did not require a bid waiver because it was for buying personal equipment and not a contract, Arellano said.

NEXT MEETING

The City Council next meets at 5:30 p.m. Monday at City Hall, 121 W. Second St.

Go to discoverdixon.org or call City Hall at 815-288-1485 for an agenda or more information.

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