Raleigh council sets agenda for Wilmington retreat

ccampbell@newsobserver.comJanuary 28, 2014 

— The city council will set off for Wilmington Thursday morning, and the schedule for its first out-of-county meeting in two decades won’t leave much time for surfing.

The council will meet for a total of 19 hours during the two-day retreat, working on Raleigh’s strategic plan as well as efforts to improve communication within city government. The final agenda for the meetings was approved last week.

“The emphasis is on the working relationship on the board as well as to focus on strategic planning,” said new City Manager Ruffin Hall, who’d recommended the meeting take place out of town to minimize distractions.

Creative working agenda

To make the most of the meetings, Hall and the retreat’s paid facilitator gave council members two homework assignments last week. They’re asked to prepare a five-minute speech in the “This I Believe” format used on National Public Radio. The speeches will give leaders a chance to share their personal beliefs about the future of Raleigh.

Hall also handed out blank maps of Raleigh and colored pencils last week. The council members will use them to draw maps of how they’d like the city to look in 10 to 15 years – “if you were God,” the instructions suggest.

“That’s intended to be a creative exercise,” Hall explained. “Final products will not be judged.”

Councilman John Odom also distributed copies of the book, “Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In,” which he encouraged his fellow council members to read.

Among the other highlights of the two-day agenda in a meeting room at downtown Wilmington’s Hilton Riverside Hotel:

• Setting “mutual expectations” for city council members and the city manager

• Hearing Hall’s “impressions” from his first two months on the job

• Creating a “shared vision” with “key focus areas” as Raleigh begins a strategic planning process

Trip gets cheaper

Also last week, Hall released updated cost estimates for the trip, which were reduced when the council decided to spend only one night in the Wilmington hotel.

Now the trip’s expected to cost $13,117 – down from $16,241 for the original two-night plan – and Hall expects the final number could be even lower. The current figure is for 20 people in attendance, but Hall now plans for bring six city staffers for a total of 15 participants.

“We have minimized staff attendance to allow the mayor and council the most amount of discussion time, and to save costs,” Hall wrote to the council.

But Councilwoman Mary-Ann Baldwin told Hall last week that city department heads could be helpful in answering any questions that arise. She suggested they be available to talk via video chat if necessary.

Even with the lower costs – and the Cary Town Council’s recent Winston-Salem retreat cost $16,000 – some think Raleigh should have stayed in town for its meetings.

“While going out of town is not the best option, we were able to work with the mayor to reduce the overall costs,” Councilman Wayne Maiorano recently wrote to a resident questioning the expense. “While not perfect, it is an improvement.”

Campbell: 919-829-4802; Twitter: @RaleighReporter

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