Prior Approvals and the City Council

The Fort Wayne City Council in Regular Session

There have been two issues that have caused procedure, legality or simple protocol discussions to be had every time they come up before the Council.  The first is Tax Abatements and the second Prior Approvals.  This evening, it was S-08-09-07 which approved a Facility Management Agreement between the City and NAI Harding Dahm for the Regional Public Safety Academy.  

The city code section that deals with Prior Approvals is:

     (A)     From time to time the Common Council of the city is requested by various departments of the executive branch of government of the city to give its promise that it will, on presentation of a properly drawn ordinance or resolution affecting a particular subject matter, pass an ordinance or resolution thereon at a future regular meeting of the Common Council.  Such action is customarily referred to as “prior approval.”  Such”prior approval” is in derogation of the strict letter of the law regarding presentation and passage of ordinances and resolutions but is in the best interest of the city.

     (B)     Any request for a “prior approval” presented to the Common Council shall require two-thirds vote of the members of the Council.  All “prior approval” requests must be passed at a committee session on a second or fourth Tuesday meeting of the Council.  The only exception to this requirement shall be with the approval of the Council President, or by the City Clerk if the President is not available.

(’74 Code, § 2-39.1)  (Ord. G-21-81, passed 10-13-81; Am. Ord. G-18-92, passed 4-26-92; Am. Ord. G-13-01, passed 7-24-01)

Mitch Harper in particular has questioned time and again the legality of prior approvals, but nothing has been resolved.  You may listen to the introduction of the ordinance and initial discussion here:

MP3 Audio File Prior Approvals and the Regional Public Safety Academy Discussion – part 1 (mp3)

At the 7:58 mark in the recording, Liz Brown asks Dan Brenner, Property Manager for the City, why a prior approval was sought when there didn’t seem to be a need for the rush.  His response was that the building had been operational since last September and there has not been an agreement in place, rather they’ve been going month-to-month.  When pushed for a more “responsive” answer, he stated that there were some Harding Dahm people that could not make next week’s council meeting.  Liz’s response:

I have to say, that as a representative of the people of Fort Wayne, I don’t think that’s as important as them getting their due time to coming to these meetings for the process.

So apparently, this was an instance where it was in the interest of a contractor to seek a prior approval.  This is an example of something that can be good, but can also run wild and be abused if not kept checked or used only in extreme emergencies.  

Right after the above statement by Liz Brown, she then asks some specific questions about overtime and a second engineer to provide an overlap of hours with the first engineer and hence more coverage for the building.  I guess my question is what exactly is an engineer, or technician doing?  Sounds like a fancy term for someone that locks the doors or cleans up or handles little incidental things in a brand new building that really shouldn’t have any issues that would require an “Engineer” or “Tech”.  Perhaps clarification of what this second person would be doing is necessary.

Councilwoman Karen Goldner pointed out that the $150,840 for the management contract with Harding Dahm is only a portion of the total operating expenses.  The total operating expenses is somewhere in the neighborhood of $780,000 which includes things like building expenses, utilities and salaries.

Later in the committee session, the prior approval issue came to another head, this time more concerning procedural handling of the process.

MP3 Audio File  Prior Approvals discussion – part 2 (mp3)

Hopefully something can be worked out between the Administration and Council regarding this issue.  In the meantime, the entire Committee Session may be downloaded here:

MP3 Audio File 9/9/2008 – City Council Committee Session

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