By Bob Shiles
March 1, 2014
LUMBERTON — A three-day retreat in Wilmington for the Robeson County commissioners cost county taxpayers about $5,300, but County Manger Ricky Harris feels the money was well spent.
“I think we had a good retreat. Things went well,” Harris said. “There was a lot accomplished … . Retreats when carefully planned are designed to remove participants from their everyday routines, environment and distractions. A neutral site or controlled site serves best for a retreat.”
All eight county commissioners and six county administrators attended the event that was held from Feb. 5 to Feb. 7 at the Homewood Suites Wilmington/Mayfaire.
During the event, the commissioners heard presentations from county department heads concerning issues dealing with social services, solid waste, public works, tax administration, economic development, human resources and health. They also were updated by a representative of the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners on the association’s major legislative priorities for the upcoming short session of the state General Assembly, which convenes in Raleigh in May.
It was also during the retreat that the commissioners were presented the results of a county jail construction study that provided options for addressing the county’s jail overcrowding.
Commissioner Tom Taylor contends that just as much could be accomplished at less cost to county taxpayers if the retreat had been held somewhere in Robeson County.
“I learned a lot down here,” Taylor told The Robesonian as he prepared to return to Lumberton after the last session of the retreat. “But we could have done the same thing up there (Robeson County). For one, I can concentrate wherever the retreat is held.”
As of late Thursday, Taylor is the only member of the board who paid all of his own expenses, including travel, food and lodging for the three days he spent in Wilmington. Commissioner Lance Herndon, who paid his own retreat expenses in the past, said he plans to join Taylor in paying for all of his expenses.
According to Tammy Freeman, clerk to the board, the commissioners paid their own travel, Freeman said. Robeson County pays its commissioners a $700 stipend a month for travel, the highest in the state.
According to Freeman, the total cost of two nights lodging for one participant was $235. The meeting room cost, which included meals, was $1,637.
Participants paid for their own meals except for one dinner, according to Freeman. The dinner, held on second night of the three-day event at the Oceanic restaurant, cost $532.96 plus a $99.62 tip.
Participants in the retreat included Harris and the commissioners; Jason King, assistant county manager; Billy Cook, computer technician; Kellie Blue, finance director; Charles Britt, general services manager; and Freeman, clerk to the board.
The total reported in this story did not include travel expenses for county personnel who traveled down for a single day as part of the presentations for the commissioners.
In 2009 the retreat was held at Sunset Beach in Brunswick County, and in 2010 the commissioners traveled again to Brunswick County, to Ocean Isle Beach.
For the past three years, the commissioners have stayed close to home, holding their 2011 retreat at the Lumber River Council of Governments building at COMtech, and their 2012 and 2013 retreats at the Emergency Operations Center adjacent to the Sheriff’s Office on Legend Road.