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.”
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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 Hilton hotel in Charlotte — 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.
“Please note there are lots of hotel options in Charlotte ... and staff can do additional research with more time,” Hall wrote.
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.
Both Baldwin and new councilman Wayne Maiorano have suggested that staying in town might be a better use of funds. The in-town options would still include the cost of meals during the three days of meetings, estimated to be as much as $7,000.
The retreat will be the council’s first out-of-county meeting in more than 20 years. McFarlane’s first retreat last year was a one-day meeting at Five County Stadium in Zebulon.