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Council Holds Tight on Mayor's Money Reins

Officials concerned about lack of oversight on expenditures up to $1 million

A proposal by Shirley Franklin that would allow the mayor's office to bypass City Council approval for expenditures up to $1 million is expected to face stern Council opposition.

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Even Council members who agree that expanding the mayor's spending authority could help streamline city operations have concerns that the proposed figure — a tenfold increase — is far too large a jump. Some also worry that ceding so much financial oversight might raise eyebrows in a city that recently packed its last mayor off to federal prison.

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"This isn't about not trusting Shirley Franklin or her administration, but they'll be gone in three years," says Councilman Howard Shook. "What if the next crew to come into the mayor's office is like the one that came before?" Former Mayor Bill Campbell's high-profile corruption trial this spring ended in his conviction for tax-evasion; earlier, three of his top aides and six city contractors were either convicted or pled guilty to corruption-related charges.

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Shook, who chairs the finance committee now considering the proposal, says his biggest problem with the measure isn't the temptation for graft or cronyism that it might afford; rather, it's the resulting shift in the balance of City Hall power.

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In fact, he says, most Council members he's spoken with agree that some increase in the mayor's spending authority is long overdue — the current level was set nearly 30 years ago — but that no one, himself included, seems willing to ratchet it all the way up to a cool million.

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Councilwoman Felicia Moore, on the other hand, says she'll fight hard to keep the limit right where it is.

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"I've personally drawn a line in the sand," she says. "The citizens expect the Council to have oversight over how their tax dollars are spent and I'm not willing to give up that authority."

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David Edwards, the city's program management officer, says the change is needed to keep pace with inflation and could arguably result in more effective oversight because the vast majority of city spending is wrapped up in multimillion-dollar contracts for such big-ticket items as sewers and runways.

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The mayor's proposal, which would require a change in the city charter, was first floated in February, but languished in committee because of low Council support. The move to push it back onto the front burner may signal the administration's willingness to compromise on the $1 million threshold, Shook says.

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"If they got half that figure, I think their socks would roll up and down with joy," he says.



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