MANCHESTER — In what is becoming a routine of sorts, the Town Council -- for the third time this fiscal year -- hired David Warner as its projects administrator.
Warner, a former councilman amid his third 60-day, $4,200 contract with the council, hasn't actually ever left the job since assuming it last January, nor does he expect to any time soon.
But to comply with the town charter's insistence that expenditures exceeding $5,000 be put up for public bid, Warner's yearlong job must be broken up into six different contracts.
And while no one on the council has any complaints with the job Warner is doing for them,Councilman Geoffrey S. Black has expressed concern over the last month or so at how the arrangement might look to town residents.
"I think Dave does an outstanding job," he said. "The town is certainly getting more than its money's worth from him.
"But I'm concerned that there may be a public perception that the town is simply getting around this requirement of putting the contract out on bid," he said.
Technically, language in the town charter allows the council to continue the current arrangement indefinitely.
And, town officials insist, the arrangement suits their need and Warner's need for flexibility.
"I'm happy with it, and I don't see any reason for changing it," Warner said. "I think the periodic short-term basis is good for me and the town."
The arrangement is uncommon among the state's municipalities, according to the Maryland Municipal League.
Most towns that hire someone to perform jobs similar to Warner's do so on a full-time, long-term basis, the MML says.
The town has not broken any local or state laws, said Allan B. Blumberg, an assistant state attorney general. "The goal is to provide as much competitiveness as possible," he said. "But, for small purchases, bidding is not required."
Small purchases or contracts for state government can total up to $10,000. Under state law -- which does not apply directly to Manchester or any other municipality -- purchases over that amount cannot be split up to avoid putting them out for competitive bidding.
"A procurement may not be artificially divided in order to use the small procurement method instead of the other . . . methods," reads the state procurement law.
When the council approved the budget for fiscal 1992 -- which began July 1 and runs to June 30 -- it included $25,000 for the project administrator's position. Black said the council intended all along to spend the $25,000 to employ Warner.
At most, Black said, the splitting of the expenditures might violate the spirit of the law.
Warner left his $500-a-year council post in December. Before he did, the council discussed the possibility of a projects administrator post being created after then-Mayor Elmer C. Lippy leftto assume his county commissioner seat.
The discussions creating the job were held behind closed doors; Warner did not attend those discussions, and he did not apply for the job.
"I never asked for this job, but when they came to me, it seemed like a perfect arrangement," Warner said.
But Black said he is not sure how much longer he can feel comfortable with the council's perpetual renewal of the short-term contracts.
"The perception (of getting around the charter'sbid requirement) has some merit," he said. "But we're not in the budgetary position to hire a full-time administrator or manager."
Such a move, considered likely here in the next year or so, would probably cost close to $60,000 a year in salary and benefits. The Institutefor Governmental Services at the University of Maryland published inSeptember a survey of town manager salaries, which showed their salaries in the Baltimore area range from the $28,500 paid in Taneytown to $52,000 in Aberdeen.
Until a manager's post is created, Black said, Warner's position probably will continue as is.
"I don't see this as more than a temporary situation," Black said. "We have by no means created a manager's post out of this."