Denton city manager gains new authority

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The Denton City Council agreed Tuesday to give the city manager broad new authority to purchase land needed for public works projects, such as roads, power lines and other utility improvements.

The city staff recommended a change several months ago, after seeing the effects of a new state law on such negotiations and looking ahead at large capital improvement projects that will require the city to acquire much more right of way for roads and utilities.

The City Council delayed the move at least twice — once in February and again in March. During its meeting Tuesday, the council took up the matter in both closed and open sessions, wrestling with the issues for more than three hours before settling on conditions in a special-call session.

By the time the dust settled, the authority to purchase property for road and utility projects rested on the desk of the city manager alone. The council would not permit the city manager himself to delegate that authority further.

For a time, the council considered limiting the authority to property that appraised at $350,000 or less, which the staff said would bring about the most efficiency in its work to acquire right of way in the next few years.

However, the council agreed that no matter the value of the land, Denton’s city manager now has the authority to make offers based on a certified appraisal, negotiate counter-offers within certain limits and close the deal on behalf of the city.

The negotiation limits were generally tied to purchasing authority already delegated to the city manager, according to City Attorney Anita Burgess. In other words, for land needed for water, wastewater, drainage and street projects, the city manager is generally limited in negotiations to an additional $100,000. For projects related to Denton Municipal Electric, that limit is $500,000.

The council did not delegate authority to acquire land for projects that would require a specific-use permit, for example, an electric substation or water treatment plant. The delegation also did not include any eminent domain proceedings, which by law, cannot be delegated and must go through the City Council, Burgess said.

The council also flirted briefly with putting a sunset provision on the authority. But Council member Kevin Roden withdrew the condition after realizing that it could create problems when the authority expired in the future.

Instead, the council put in a condition that the city manager report regularly on the use of the delegated authority. Roden said he was satisfied that future councils, through those reports, would have ample opportunity to revisit the matter and make changes, if needed.

Some council members remained concerned about what constituted the council’s approval for a public works project — essentially, the trigger for the city manager’s authority to begin buying land — since, for some projects, approving the annual budget appears to be such a trigger.

Roden pointed, specifically, to the controversy over the routing of a new power line on the city’s northeast side.

“In the budget, typically we don’t drill down to that level of specificity, and we don’t want to get into that again,” he said, referring to the controversy from 2011.

Denton Municipal Electric has since contracted for services that seek more public input and involvement when it is determining routes for power lines. Roden asked that the staff bring back recommendations for similar processes for other new public works projects.

PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881 and via Twitter at @phwolfeDRC.


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