Why not set negotiation deadlines?

New Warren Councilman Ken MacPherson was on the mark when he cast the only dissension in the 9-1 vote to allow Warren Law Director Greg Hicks to hire Stephen P. Samuels of the law firm of Frost, Brown and Todd at a cost of $450 per hour to help his office review and renegotiate a decades-old contract designating the amount the county pays the city to treat some wastewater. Hicks said he needs Samuels’ environmental law expertise.

We get that. It’s an extremely specialized field and Samuels has the knowledge that makes him better equipped to negotiate on behalf of the city.

MacPherson’s problem with the deal, however, came largely because the legislation hiring Samuels contained no cap. It is, in essence, open-ended. When the new 5th Ward councilman demanded limits — specifically 60 days to hammer out the new contract — Hicks argued that such a limit would tie his hands during negotiations.

It appears MacPherson’s proposal for a 60-day limit wasn’t reached haphazardly. In fact, the existing master meter contract with the county was set to expire in December, but it was extended for 60 days to allow time for negotiations.

City officials — including all council members and the law director — should always be willing to find ways to set limits when spending taxpayer money, especially at a rate of $450 per hour.

Now, it was Hicks’ idea to renegotiate the contract, saying that without higher new rates, the city could lose out on potential earnings. He argued that renegotiating the 20-year-old master meter agreement would increase the amount of money the county pays for the treatment of wastewater from portions of Lordstown and Champion.

Hicks told council members the level of compensation the city is receiving for processing wastewater from these communities is out of line with the amounts earned by similar facilities that are processing the wastewater from adjoining communities.

He said if the contract is not brought in line with what is being charged in other communities, the city potentially might not lose out on some $57 million that it should receive over the next 20 years, Hicks said.

That’s enough to potentially head off future rate increases.

Based on that, it seems no one is objecting to the talks or even hiring a specialized attorney to handle them.

But, that doesn’t mean the talks can’t be handled with an impending deadline that would behoove negotiators on both sides to move with greater urgency.

MacPherson, who works as a business consultant in locations around the world creating systems that allow companies to grow and expand, may have been the only one who was able to see that.

It is exciting to see a businessman serving in this governmental role and arguing logically that government should learn to operate more efficiently — at the speed of business. Without the sense of urgency and dollar caps that local business requires, government will continue to spend money at the seemingly unmanaged rate that many Americans, sadly, have come to accept.

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