Heather Taylor of The Citizens Campaign presented model ordinances on best price insurance purchasing, public contracting (“pay-to-play”) reform, competitive negotiation for professional service contracts and requiring contribution disclosure statements in zoning applications to the council Monday and members Cory Storch, Rebecca Williams, Adrian Mapp and Council President Annie McWilliams voiced support. But council members Vera Greaves, William Reid and Bridget Rivers all said they needed more time to review the proposed ordinances and saw no need to push for swift passage. When McWilliams polled members for a consensus on putting the ordinances up for a first vote at the Oct. 11 regular meeting, Storch surprisingly joined the three that were opposed and so there was no consensus.
The council may try for approval of the ordinances on first reading at a special meeting on Oct. 19.
After the meeting, Storch explained he said “no” on the consensus because he hopes there will be five votes in favor of the reform ordinances, as the same number will be needed to overcome a veto by the mayor. The ordinances would have to pass on two readings, after which the mayor would have 10 days by which to exercise her veto power. If the veto is overturned, the ordinances would become effective 20 days later. To accomplish passage by Dec. 31, special meetings will be necessary.
In her presentation, Taylor said the best price insurance ordinance called for hiring a broker directly to obtain health coverage rather than using a broker who gets fees from insurers. The state Department of Community Affairs recommends that cities approve a competitive process, she said, and named numerous cities that have adopted the practice.
Pay-to-play contracting reform has been adopted in over 90 municipalities and three counties, she said. Its aim is to limit influence by political contributors.
(Plaintalker will not attempt here to detail all four ordinances. Council members have discussed aspects of contracting reform on their blogs and will no doubt do more as the legislation goes forward.)
Among comments Monday, Reid asked whether there had been any reaction from state legislators on the reforms. Taylor said pay-to-play had been talked about “but never seems to get the votes.”
Storch asked whether the reforms would have any impact on “wheeling,” and Taylor said yes. She described wheeling as an attempt to circumvent election laws by obscuring where campaign contributions come from.
Corporation Counsel Dan Williamson said abuses were not proven to exist in Plainfield and called for Acting City Administrator David Kochel or a successor to review and “maybe tweak” the ordinances. McWilliams said the administration would have all week and the holiday weekend to review the ordinances, but Williamson balked, saying if the measures had to be passed in the new year, “so be it.” Storch retorted that he had objected to pay-to-play for all of his seven years on the council.
“This is nothing new,” he said.
Williams concurred and said, “It is our responsibility to save our residents money” by not paying for “inflated political contributions.”
After Williamson again asked for more time for the administration to sit with the council and discuss the legislation, Mapp said there have been “a whole host of issues” where he would want dialogue on both sides.
“But to date we have been shut out,” he said.
Mapp said the administration’s Wednesday cabinet meetings run to eight hours and suggested they would provide plenty of time to discuss the proposed legislation.
But then Storch’s “no” on consensus, with the other three, made the push for first reading by next Tuesday moot.
In other business, the council will resume its investigation of a $20,000 payment to WBLS on Oct. 19 and will also need to approve $5,000 more for the council’s attorney in the matter. Reid raised strong objections to the additional cost, saying he predicted it at the time of the initial approval of funding for council attorney Ramon Rivera. McWilliams said the need for more legal funding was due to repeat calls and requests to the mayor and that the point of investigating the $20,000 expense was that it “extends to all $70 million of the budget.”
Reid again objected, saying the mayor should just apologize “and say she won’t do it any more.”
But Mapp backed McWilliams, saying the investigation was “about how city money is handled” and “third-party deals.”
As Reid traded barbs with Mapp and called the legal costs “a waste of money,” Storch said the evidence so far suggested “willful wrongdoing” and he supports the investigation.
“Stopping in the middle serves nobody’s purpose,” he said.
Williams backed Storch and said, ”The onus is on us to find out where the truth is hidden.”
In a consensus count, Williams, Mapp, Storch and McWilliams agreed to put the additional $5,000 legal cost up for a vote on Oct. 11, while Greaves, Rivers and Reid dissented.