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More than $400,000 spent without council knowledge

The city of Sunnyside got more than it bargained for when it inked a contract with Pacific Groundwater Group for development of new city wells.

Since 2006, the city has spent more than $900,000 in amendments to a contract that had an original price of $157,184 back in 2004.

The amendments were for additional work that needed to be done for engineering the city's water system and new wells.

The problem, the Sunnyside City Council was told Monday night, is that most of the new cost - almost a half million dollars - was approved without prior council consent.

About $430,000 of that administratively approved contract work, according to the contract documentation, was by former City Manager Bob Stockwell. Interim City Manager Mark Kunkler enacted two of the seven contracts without prior council approval, having a combined value of about $65,000.

At council's request, Swansen brought a detailed description of the work Stockwell and Kunkler approved.

"I appreciate Eric bringing this up because this would have stayed hidden had he not," said Councilman Tom Gehlen.

Swansen said the charges approved without council consent are to such an extent that it will have to be included in the city's financial report. "I will bring this to the auditor," he said. "It will rise to that level."

Though the contracts were already approved and the work completed, council still went through the motion of formally ratifying the additional contracts with Pacific Groundwater.

The action taken last night clears the air for the city to pursue future work with Pacific Groundwater as Sunnyside is in the process of trying to obtain water for the Monson property.

Councilwoman Theresa Hancock wanted to make sure the Stockwell/Kunkler scenario didn't' repeat itself.

"What are we doing to make sure this doesn't happen administratively again?" she asked.

Swansen said clarification is needed from council on what the threshold is for charges approved without prior council consent.

"We need to get this stuff clarified," he said, noting there are "issues" on the South First Street project that will probably require the city to spend additional money. He said a concern is contractors could pursue additional costs against the day if there is a delay in work approval.

"It's easy to say we're hamstringing people," Hancock replied. "But when someone is signing change orders for $86,000 and $100,000 it should be brought back before this body."

Hancock repeated her call to not repeat history.

"I want assurances this will be brought back before council. We need to know as council that in the future this will never happen again."

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