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TriPol: Raleigh council's January retreat to cost up to $16K

From staff reportsDecember 27, 2013 

Cost estimates for the Raleigh City Council’s January planning retreat in Wilmington have reached $16,241 with the hiring of an outside facilitator.

New City Manager Ruffin Hall – who recommended the three-day, out-of-town retreat – told the council in a recent email that he hired Michelle Ferguson of the Novak Consulting Group at a cost of $4,900.

Ferguson, a former Arlington County, Va., assistant manager, will hold interviews with each council member before the retreat.

“Michelle comes highly recommended by several of my local government colleagues,” Hall wrote. “The cost for her assistance ... is well within normal cost parameters.”

The retreat plan has drawn fire from two council members who question the necessity of traveling outside Raleigh. Supporters of the plan, including Mayor Nancy McFarlane, argue that leaving Raleigh minimizes distractions and helps the council focus on developing a strategic plan for the city.

At council members’ request, Hall also provided cost estimates for a Charlotte hotel — about $5,000 more than Wilmington. Councilwoman Mary-Ann Baldwin had suggested the Queen City as an alternative where the council could learn about transit.

Hall’s updated estimates also included several Raleigh locations that aren’t city owned, such as the the State Club at N.C. State’s Centennial Campus and Hunt Library. Holding the retreat in town – outside of free city facilities – would cost between $5,000 to $8,000, not including the facilitator fee.

Challenges await schools panel

The Wake County school board’s new Government Relations committee could have a lot of work to do improving relations with other elected bodies.

The school board voted to form the committee earlier this month to work with the Wake County Board of Commissioners, Wake’s municipal governments, the General Assembly and other elected bodies such as the State Board of Education and other state school boards.

“Its leadership would be out of the board room and out into the community,” school board Chairwoman Christine Kushner said before the vote.

The committee, to be chaired by former board Chairman Keith Sutton, was formed amid strained relations with other bodies:

• The school board has fought with the commissioners over control over school construction authority and funding.

• The school board has fought with state legislators about funding and changes the General Assembly has tried to make in Wake.

• Some Garner town officials have publicly talked about withholding permit approval for school projects unless they get a meeting with the school board.

A call for restraint in Durham

Durham City Councilman Steve Schewel is urging police and protester restraint in the aftermath of a teenager’s death in the back of a Durham patrol car.

Jesus Huerta, 17, died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound while handcuffed, according to police. The shooting, which police have not explained, has sparked two marches on police headquarters and multiple arrests. Police used tear gas to disperse a crowd of about 150 people Dec. 20.

In a message to neighborhood groups Schewel acknowledged a handful of protesters were bent on confrontation. “Their words ... are filled with hatred towards police.”

But the councilman said the larger group of protesters must isolate the more extreme faction so police can avoid this “kind of massive response.”

“This is not a law enforcement strategy that can succeed long-term, and it is not the kind of response that Durham wants,” Schewel says. “Instead of swinging night sticks at people, the police used first smoke and subsequently tear gas to disperse the crowd. ... But it also meant that innocent people were terrified and sent reeling through our streets.”

Durham Mayor Bill Bell has called on police to release their internal investigation into Huerta’s death. Bell expects a response to his request after the holidays.

Compiled by staff writers Colin Campbell, Keung Hui, Mark Schultz.

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