Councilors are considering the Hilton Riverside hotel in Wilmington as a location for their first retreat with City Manager Ruffin Hall. The late January retreat is estimated to cost $11,341.
That cost covers two nights at the hotel, plus food for 20 people. Wilmington was one of seven locations up for Council consideration. The closest spot on the table was Pinehurst and the farthest was Asheville.
Council members are waiting to hear back from the downtown Wilmington hotel to make sure rooms are available before finalizing the decision.
While the Council often has one- or two-day work sessions on a particular topic, such as solid waste services or transportation, Councilors seldom meet for multiple days for broad strategic planning. Wilmington is also a far cry from last year’s one-day retreat at Mudcats Stadium in Zebulon.
According to costs provided to the Record by the mayor’s office, the August 2012 retreat cost the city about $4,517. Food costs totaled about $1,142 for breakfast for 38 people and lunch for 30. The city also hired a facilitator for $3,375.
Since the meeting was held locally and only for one day, no overnight stays were needed.
The current budget has $6,000 set aside for two Council retreats and Hall said that additional funding could come from other meeting budgets.
Hall has been Raleigh’s city manager for less than a month, but he’s already underway with planning the retreat, which he suggested should take place outside the city.
“Going out of town allows you to avoid distractions and focus the conversations,” he said at a special council work session Tuesday. From his experience, he said, he found that more work gets accomplished.
In Charlotte, where Hall previously served as the assistant city manager, elected officials alternated between staying in town and venturing out.
“I don’t think it’s necessary for a group of elected officials to go out of town every year,” he said.
In this case, he said that the Council is in the unique position of not only working with a new City Councilor – Wayne Maiorano – but also a new city manager.
One of the major focuses of the retreat will be communication.
“The purpose of this particular retreat is to really lay the foundation for how we work together,” Hall said.
Councilors have publicly complained about communication problems with the former city manager and have made fixing those problems a top priority.
Hall also suggested hiring a facilitator that would keep the meeting on track and on schedule.
Mayor Nancy McFarlane said that in her talks with other mayors, Raleigh is an outlier.
“Almost every other mayor is actually surprised that we don’t do this,” she said.
McFarlane echoed Hall’s sentiments that the Council is more likely to get more done if they go out of town.
“Every meeting that I’ve had in town, someone leaves,” she said.
While all Councilors seemed amenable to having the retreat out of town, it didn’t come without any discussion.
“I just want us to be thoughtful in the decision-making process,” Maiorano said.
The retreat is scheduled to run for two days, from Jan. 29 to Jan. 30. Councilor Mary-Ann Baldwin said she has some concerns about such a long retreat because of how much time it takes Councilors away from their full-time jobs and families.
Baldwin said she thought the Council could get everything done locally if everyone followed the rules. Like McFarlane, Baldwin said that when meetings are held nearby, it’s easy to leave at 5 p.m.
She also questioned why Charlotte wasn’t a consideration. She said she thought Charlotte had a lot more to offer than Wilmington, especially as it relates to transit.
“I wanted to go someplace where I could learn something,” Baldwin told the Record.
At the meeting, Hall suggested a transit-specific trip to his former city that would focus just on transit issues.
CORRECTION APPENDED: The original story said the retreat was scheduled for three days. The headline is correct, it only runs for two.