King: Retreat should be on OBX
By Jon Hawley
Friday, January 12, 2018
The new Elizabeth City City Council is considering holding a retreat at the Outer Banks next month, though one councilor warned city residents may see the trip to the beach as a waste of their tax dollars.
The council, like other governing boards, holds annual or biennial retreats to set goals and build relationships among its members. Like they did for their retreat in 2016, councilors are looking at a two-day event moderated by a hired facilitator. Also like their 2016 retreat, councilors tentatively agreed Monday to hold an evening session, with dinner served, followed by a day long session. Council tentatively set the retreat for Feb. 8-9.
In a change from the past, however, Third Ward Councilor Rickey King, the council’s mayor pro tem, called for holding the retreat out of town. Previous council retreats were held in Elizabeth City.
“I really feel, my personal feeling is this, is that we as a new body, new council – we've got four new people on this council – we need to come together and get to know each other, and we can't do it going to eat, and stay a day and then come back home,” King said.
He suggested holding the retreat either in Kitty Hawk or Nags Head, where councilors would stay overnight and resume a facilitated discussion the next morning.
King asked if councilors could apply their city-funded travel allotments to the retreat. Each councilor receives $1,700 each budget year to reimburse them for city-related travel expenses, while the mayor, who's expected to travel more, receives $3,400.
City Manager Rich Olson said councilors could apply their travel allotments to the retreat if they chose to do that.
In response to a press inquiry, city staff reported City Council has only $11,546 remaining in its travel budget for the fiscal year that ends June 30. That amount has been divvied out proportionately to the new council, with Mayor Bettie Parker getting 20 percent of it, or $2,310, and each councilor getting 10 percent, or $1,155.
Councilor Darius Horton agreed with King's suggestion, commenting, “That's what a retreat (is); we need to get away and have that experience, so I definitely think that's a great direction to go.”
Second Ward Councilor Anita Hummer said she was opposed to an out-of-town retreat, however. She said she saw no need for the travel, and warned that city residents indirectly footing the bill for it wouldn’t see the need for it either.
“This is about money, and you can name it whatever you want to, but I know my constituents and I know they don't like the idea of an evening of pleasure when it's all about business, and I think we can get just as much done here in Elizabeth City,” Hummer said.
King acknowledged that even his own constituents might object to the trip, but maintained the travel is needed because “it's a time that we need to get together.”
He also argued City Council has plenty of travel dollars to cover the trip. Councilors seldom use all of their travel money each year, he said, and often get requests to use the money for other things.
Responding to a question from King, Olson said there's usually about $5,000 to $6,000 left over in council travel money each year.
“I rest my case,” King said.
Typically, unspent travel dollars remain in the city's general fund, where they can be allocated to other services or remain in reserve.
Olson cautioned councilors they would need their travel dollars for an “essentials of government” class this spring taught by the University of North Carolina School of Government and the N.C. League of Municipalities. The course for new elected officials is not required, but strongly encouraged, according to city staff.
Olson also estimated an out-of-town retreat could cost up to $5,000, versus the $3,000 to $3,500 past retreats have cost. After councilors agreed to the retreat dates, he said he could start planning more details of the retreat, including not only its venue and cost, but who the facilitator will be.
Councilors agreed to wait for Olson to report back to them later this month before taking further action on the retreat.