The Anaheim City Council voted Tuesday night to slash the city manager’s authority to sign contracts without council approval, reducing the maximum from $250,000 to $100,000.

Mayor Tom Tait, who had placed the matter on the meeting agenda, said he had been considering the issue for months and is uncomfortable with the city manager having a signing authority that is higher than most California cities of comparable size.

A maximum of $250,000 “to me seems like a lot,” Tait said.

City Manager Thomas Wood’s signing authority was increased from $100,000 to $250,000 last November. Since then, Wood has signed 12 contracts that have been above $100,000.

The vote to reduce his authority to the previous limit was 4-1, with Councilwoman Lorri Galloway dissenting.

Wood argued in favor of the higher signing authority, saying it makes the contracting process both cheaper and faster. Contracts that don’t need council approval are processed about five weeks sooner and cost about $4,000 less because city staff need not produce reports.

Wood said contracts that don’t need council approval are as transparent as those that do, because all contracts are posted on the city’s website, even before they are signed. “All of the same review requirements, all of the council policies all apply to these contracts,” Wood said.

Tait was not convinced.

“Mr. City Manager, you wrote that it’s the same review requirements as if it’s on the agenda — except it’s not on the agenda,” Tait said.

Tait and Councilwoman Gail Eastman emphasized that they fully trusted city staff and had “no question” about their integrity. But Eastman also alluded to recent complaints about transparency.

“I do share some concerns about the public perception at this point,” Eastman said. “It’s obvious from some of the complaints that we’ve received recently that people are somewhat [suspicious], even though it’s available online.”

Recently there have been conflict of interest questions regarding contracts that did not go to the City Council for approval. In both cases, however, the contracts would have been within the city manager’s new signing authority.

After Scott Fazekas contracted with the city in late 2009 to be head of the building division, his private firm, Scott Fazekas & Associates, received thousands of dollars in plan review work, raising conflict of interest concerns from good government experts. Fazekas’ city employment contract was just under $100,000.

Fazekas resigned his post earlier this month after revelations about the outsourcing arrangement.

A Voice of OC article earlier this year revealed that the city had contracted with alleged con artist Chaz Haba to run a lithium-ion battery station near a children’s playground.

The experiment ended in failure, and the battery station that Haba’s firm had been running was left in an explosive state, according to the company’s former director of engineering, David Nyberg. The battery station has since been turned off.

Haba’s contract never went before the City Council because it too was just under $100,000.


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