CHARLOTTE – Councilmen Ed Driggs and Braxton Winston got into a heated debate over raising the city’s contract threshold during the Aug. 23 Budget and Effectiveness Committee meeting.
Currently, Charlotte’s city manager has the authority to approve purchases and contracts up to $100,000, but larger amounts have to be approved by the council. The city’s auditor, Greg McDowell, is recommending raising the threshold to $500,000. Doing so would increase efficiency and be in line with other nearby municipalities, he said.
Winston, however, doesn’t want to raise the threshold and thinks the public feels the same. The at-large councilman said it reduces oversight of public safety spending and goes against the government transparency the community not only asked for, but the city also promised.
“This runs countercurrent to those ideals that we have professed,” Winston said during the Aug. 23 meeting. “I think that this is the wrong conversation to be having and I think it’s misguided.”
But Driggs didn’t buy into Winston’s reasoning.
“I don’t think the conversations he has with people he knows constitutes a survey of the people of Charlotte,” Driggs said. “That is a perspective. There are a lot of people in this town, and I don’t know we have evidence of any prevailing sentiment among them.”
The City of Charlotte has a $2.1 billion budget, and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police have $270 million. Both operate within $100,000 contract thresholds, which Driggs called micromanagement. He said council should have enough confidence in city staff to make those spending decisions, even under a higher threshold.
“I don’t think a governing body like us needs to go down that far in the weeds,” he said, adding that controversial expenditures can still be discussed.
Winston, adamant that he understands the pulse of the people, said he makes efforts to talk to different groups and members of the community before making his decisions and knows this isn’t what they want.
“When you put them together as an aggregate, you can at least get a good gauge of what people want,” he said. “That is a job I take very seriously, and I do it every day.”
“I’ve been doing it for five years and you’ve been doing it for seven months,” Driggs said, raising his voice. “We both are in contact with this community on several different levels. Do not walk in here and lecture me about the City of Charlotte. You haven’t been around long enough.”
City council will continue to discuss raising the threshold and possibly vote later this year.