Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Compromise in sight on Browder spending cap

Compromise in sight on Browder spending cap

Published by news-press.com on September 13, 2005

Lee Schools Superintendent James Browder still may ask school board members to double his spending limit, and the lone dissenter challenging that proposal may agree to an alternative.

Last month, Browder asked Lee County School Board members to consider raising his spending limit from $25,000 to $50,000. He would still have to solicit written bids for contracts within that range, but wouldn't have to bring them before the board in a public meeting. Browder didn't ask for a board vote after floating that plan since members weren't in agreement.

"I didn't have anybody on the same sheet of music at that point," Browder said.

Dissenting board member Bob Chilmonik wanted to head the other direction, possibly anything over $10,000 needing board approval. But on Thursday, he wrote a memo saying he'll agree to support a $50,000 cutoff with two caveats: a designated board member must sign each purchase between $10,000 and $50,000, and Browder must provide each board member with a monthly list of all purchases.

"It would provide small checks and balances between the board and superintendent," Chilmonik said. "It will build strong public confidence in what we're doing."

Browder says the higher limit would help avoid lag time in bringing smaller purchases before the school board while cutting down staff time preparing agenda items. By comparison, the mark is $25,000 in Collier and Pinellas counties, but $150,000 in Broward. Lee's school chief said Monday he's willing to hear all options.

"Every board member has a different way of looking at things," he said.

Chilmonik said he's most concerned about accountability and transparency, citing two controversial expenditures in the past year that drew ire from taxpayers — a $24,988 sales tax consultant's fee and a $24,999 deposit to buy The Golf Club in Cape Coral.

Those same issues make Norbert Smith of Fort Myers wonder why the board would raise Browder's limit.

"He hasn't done anything to merit it," Smith said. "From what I've seen, they should take it away."