Portland Mayor Charlie Hales wants to reform city code to force debate on big-ticket contracts like the Bureau of Environmental Services office building that tripled in cost without City Council discussion.

Hales sent a memo to all city bureau directors on Tuesday that orders all contract increases over $1 million to be immediately taken off the City Council's consent agenda, where items considered routine are passed without debate.

"Having these matters on the Consent Agenda," Hales writes, "seems to be avoiding the in-depth review that may be appropriate as these projects go through the construction process."

Hales has also directed bureaus to flag any changes to contracts, no matter the size, after the first two. He says he wants a full policy discussion on changing city code to make these reforms permanent.

The mayor's order is a direct response to WW's revelations on how an office building for sewer engineers tripled in cost. The latest cost estimate on the project is $12.6 million.

WW reported last week how the building tripled in price with silent approval from the City Council. City Commissioner Nick Fish declared Wednesday that all water and sewer contract changes above $500,000 would be moved off the consent agenda.

Kent Craford, co-petitioner on a ballot measure that would remove the Water and Environmental Services bureaus from City Hall's control, says the reforms are too little, too late.

"These guys have totally misplaced priorities," Craford tells WW. "No little procedural tweak will address that cultural problem."

Hales' full email is below.

From: Hales, Charlie 
Sent: Tuesday, May 06, 2014 3:42 PM
To: City Elected Officials
Cc: City Bureau Directors; Shibley, Gail; Haynes, Dana
Subject: Memo regarding Council Consent Agenda As Mayor, I have been considering the role of the Consent Agenda. It seems clear that not all major capital construction projects receive adequate Council attention. Having these matters on the Consent Agenda seems to be avoiding the in-depth review that may be appropriate as these projects go through the construction process.  I have therefore decided that I want to have a conversation with the other Council offices, with input from the bureau directors, on amending the City Code to specify that some work change orders for major capital projects, above certain significant thresholds, be restricted from the Consent Agenda.  I am interested in having policy-level discussions about what should be considered on the Consent Agenda, as opposed to what should merit more specific, individual discussion. In the interim, in anticipation of this conversation taking place, I am informing the other Council offices that if any work change orders for capital improvement projects are placed on the Consent Agenda, which fall within the following criteria, I will ask that these ordinances be removed for Council discussion and separate vote on the regular agenda:Ø  Increases of $1 million or more in a work change order, or work change orders representing more than 30 percent of the original contract amount (bearing in mind that currently the Procurement Code allows the Chief Procurement Officer to approve changes of up to 25% without Council approval)Ø  Any work change orders after the first two (I will be asking the Chief Procurement Officer to flag any work change orders after the first two)To the extent that this is not occurring now, I will be asking that work change order ordinances contain descriptions, in the recitals, of the amount of the original contract, the amount of the change expressed as a percentage of the original contract amount, and the number of prior work change orders.In addition to capital improvement projects, professional services contracts also should be reviewed, both at the front end and when amended.In short, I have concluded that the current approach of what may go on the Consent Agenda for the Council’s consideration needs to be revised.  I welcome your input and look forward to discussing this with you all in more detail in the near future. Sincerely, Charlie HalesMayor, City of Portland1221 SW 4th Avenue