Council overrides mayoral veto of cap on emergency spending

By: Gena Johnson | Warren Weekly | Published May 8, 2024

File photo


WARREN — At the April 23 Warren City Council meeting, its members voted unanimously to override the mayor’s veto and move forward with a $50,000 cap on any emergency purchases made by the administration without first getting the council’s approval.

According to Warren City Council Secretary Mindy Moore, $50,000 is just a threshold. If more money is needed for an emergency purchase, that can be proposed, and then the City Council can meet in a timely manner and decide whether to approve the expenditure.

Mayor Lori Stone presented her position from the perspective of a Warren resident during the audience participation portion of the council meeting and then stayed for the entire meeting.

“As a resident and taxpayer, I depend on city services,” Stone said. “I recognize the mayor is responsible for ensuring the day-to-day operations of our city. It is important the mayor have access to emergency purchasing as laid out in the charter.”

The mayor said, “Emergency is defined as more than a disaster or public crisis. It is the inability to provide those services they (mayors) are tasked with daily.”

The emergency purchasing ordinance was framed to deliver continuity of services, transparency to the council and the public, and to provide checks and balances, Stone said.

“The mayor is responsible to ensure services are delivered,” Stone said. She then cited examples of emergencies that cost more than $50,000. The most recent example was in November 2023 when a hearth collapsed at the wastewater treatment plant, taking the operation offline and preventing the sludge from being incinerated into ash. This was an expected cost of $700,000, according to the mayor.

“The amount necessary to respond (to the waste treatment incident) is far above the arbitrary amount of the council’s amended ordinance,” Stone said.

She also cited other examples from 2017 including a library flood, property damage and an incinerator repair that ranged from $80,000 to more than $90,000.

Moore replied that the City Council met and approved the expenditure of $700,000 for the wastewater treatment plant and that the other examples cited by Stone were not emergencies.

“The new ordinance amendment would not have prevented that expenditure ($700,000) from being approved in a timely manner,” Moore said.

The amendment further defines what constitutes an emergency, according to the courts.

In the past, according to Moore, emergencies were declared to purchase mulch, an ice rink, a private academy to train cadets and recently, there was a miscommunication about recyclables.

“This amendment tightens up the definition of emergency to prevent these no-bid contracts to outside vendors and maintain council oversight,” Moore said. “In a true emergency, council can quickly approve any necessary expenditure in excess of $50,000.”

Council members must be given at least 18 hours’ notice before they can meet; however, in an emergency that can be waived, according to council members.

“As soon as we have a quorum, we can hold the meeting,” Moore said.

Councilman Jonathan Lafferty noted how technology has evolved since the charter was originally written and said with cellphones, all council members have the ability to get in touch with each other in a moment’s notice.

Stone wrote a detailed letter to accompany her veto that addressed the timeliness of getting the emergency purchase approved, delivering services that residents expect and the “arbitrary cap” on emergency spending without council’s approval.

“I am disappointed,” Stone said about the override by council.