LUMBERTON — Two Robeson County commissioners say they will pay their own expenses this week when county commissioners pack their bags and head to Wilmington for a three-day retreat.
Commisssioners Tom Taylor and Lance Hendron also said they would be just as happy if the county’s annual retreat was held in Robeson County rather than in Wilmington.
“I said it last year and I’ll say it again. I would prefer we hold the retreat in Robeson County,” said Taylor, who traditionally pays his own way when out of town overnight on county business. “We don’t need the expense. We can do just as much in the county.”
Herndon, who also has paid his expenses at previous county retreats, agrees with Taylor.
“I’m carrying on the tradition of my grandpa,” Herndon said. “He always paid his way.”
Herndon is the grandson of the late Bill Herndon, a longtime Robeson County commissioner.
The retreat in Wilmington begins Wednesday and continues through Friday. The commissioners, who are paid a travel stipend of $700 a month, the highest in the state, are paying their own way to get to Wilmington, but the county is footing the bill for meals and two days of lodging.
According to County Manager Ricky Harris, it’s the norm for the county to pay for food and lodging when the commissioners and county employees attend this kind of function.
“The county would never require the commissioners to use their stipends to pay for a retreat,” Harris said. “That money is to pay for the commissioners traveling throughout the county to attend meetings and other events.”
This year’s retreat is being held at the Homewood Suites Wilmington/Mayfaire at 6732 Swan Mill Road, which includes a conference center that is often used by the Lumber River Council of Governments, Harris said.
Harris said that he believes a retreat, where the commissioners are updated by department heads and others on programs and fiscal matters, can be more productive if it is held outside of the county.
“We’re holding the retreat in Wilmington to get the commissioners out of town,” he said. “It’s a better environment… They concentrate more and have a better chance to bond when they are away from the county.”
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.
Harris said that except for his belief that the commissioners function better at retreats out of the county, there was no specific condition different from the past three years that led him to select Wilmington for this year’s retreat.
“We did want to stay in North Carolina,” he said.
According to an email from Assistant County Manager Jason King to Harris, “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 three days of the retreat are open to the public. The commissioners will meet from 1 to 5:30 p.m. Wednesday; 8:15 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday; and 8:30 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. Friday.
The commissioners will not be holding their regular monthly meeting on Monday, but instead will be meeting at 6 p.m. with the Robeson Community College board of trustees. The dinner meeting is being held in the culinary dining room of Building 14 on the college’s main campus in Lumberton.
According to RCC President Pamela Hilbert, the meeting is an opportunity for the commissioners to be updated on college programs and financial needs.
“We will be talking about some of our newer programs and grant programs,” Hilbert said. “Then we’ll be shifting to a couple of challenges to our facilities that are coming up … Then see what questions they (commissioners) have.”