Eastern Wake: Celebrations

Tab for Knightdale retreat to Wilmington comes to more than $2,000

Knightdale Development Services Director Chris Hills, left, makes a presentation Town Council members and staff at the town’s summer retreat at the Courtyard Marriott in downtown Wilmington, N.C., on Friday, July 22, 2016.
Knightdale Development Services Director Chris Hills, left, makes a presentation Town Council members and staff at the town’s summer retreat at the Courtyard Marriott in downtown Wilmington, N.C., on Friday, July 22, 2016. mgoad@newsobserver.com

The Knightdale mayor is defending spending $2,312 on a Town Council summer retreat to the coast, saying going out of town minimized distractions and allowed more focused participation by the council as it considers how best to go about hiring a new town manager.

“We believe that the nominal expense associated with our retreat,” mayor James Roberson said in a statement, “was a wise investment in our governing board’s development and the future of Knightdale.”

Out-of-town retreats are common in municipal government, Roberson said, allowing board members to step away from personal and professional demands to dedicate time to in-depth discussion.

“We also felt,” Roberson said, “that an off-site retreat would better facilitate team building, constructive compromise and creative input. These assumptions proved to be true, and we were able to accomplish a great deal.”

The council held its retreat here the afternoon and evening of Thursday, July 21, and all day Friday, July 22, at the Courtyard Wilmington Downtown. The town did not announce the retreat until two days before it started. Roberson said details were still being finalized until the week of the retreat.

The largest expense was $1,134 to rent a conference room at the Courtyard for two days, including meals. A banquet-style lunch on that Friday was $200, with $50 added for beverages and a $50 catering-service fee.

The next largest expense was five hotel-room stays at the Courtyard, four at $157 a room including taxes on that Thursday night, for Roberson, council members Mark Swan and Dustin Tripp and town clerk Whitney Ledford. Roberson and Swan also stayed that Friday night for $213 each including taxes, bringing the total for hotel rooms to $1,054.

Council member Pete Mangum paid for his own room that Thursday night, said police chief Lawrence Capps, who is temporarily acting as town spokesman. Mayor Pro-Tem Mike Chalk returned to Knightdale Thursday night to look after his mother-in-law and did not use a hotel room. Also, council member Randy Young did not arrive until Friday and did not need a hotel room.

Ledford was the only town staff member to use a hotel room. The other three who attended the retreat – Capps, administrative services director Suzanne Yeatts and development services director Chris Hills – drove down and back on that Friday and did not attend the Thursday session.

The only mileage turned in by deadline, Capps said, was a request for $74 reimbursement to Roberson for 137 miles one way. Staff and elected officials who drove are allowed reimbursement at a rate of 54 cents a mile.

“I think we got things accomplished,” Chalk said. “It gives us kind of a different atmosphere. I think we got what we needed to accomplished. It’s a start. I think it was worth it.”

Former mayor Russell Killen, who served from 2007 to 2015, also said he could see the wisdom of going out of town for the retreat.

“You need the council to function as a unit,” he said, “and that helps open the lines of communication. ... You’re not going to get the same kind of progress for the town if you did it locally with a new mayor and manager. Wilmington doesn’t give me any pause. Orlando (Fla.) would have been different.”

The council spent much of the retreat talking about its search for a new town manager after former town manager Seth Lawless was forced to resign in June. The council opted at the retreat to conduct an in-house search instead of contracting with a consultant, which could have meant a bill of up to $30,000.

Council members agreed that they don’t see anyone they could promote from within the town staff to manager, saying they want to hire someone with prior experience as a town manager.

Matt Goad: 919-829-4826

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