The City of Rocky Mount’s 2021 annual retreat held this spring in Asheville cost $70,444.99, a document the municipality provided to the Telegram said.
Of that $70,444.99 amount, $43,684.70 was paid for lodging at the Omni Grove Park Inn and for facilities usage-related expenses, apparently mostly at the hotel, the document said.
As for the rest of the cost, the document said $20,550 was paid in connection with two consultants having served as facilitators during the retreat; $5,426.54 was paid to municipal officials and staff, three City Council members, three residents and a media consultant as reimbursement for mileage to help cover their costs of fuel used while traveling; and $783.75 was paid to reimburse, on a per diem basis, municipal officials and staff and two of those three council members for meals.
A per diem is a reference to an allowance from the municipality to help cover an employee’s or official’s costs of meals while away from Rocky Mount on official business.
Interim city Communications, Marketing and Public Relations Director Jessie Nunery late Tuesday afternoon emailed the data after months of requests via email by the Telegram citing the state’s public records law for the expenses and the reimbursements for lodging and travel by participants at the retreat.
The council in a 4-3 vote on Feb. 8 directed the retreat be held in Asheville because the council majority wanted to go to the Buncombe County seat to learn from officials there how they have been addressing housing issues.
The retreat was held from April 7-9 at the Omni Grove Park Inn — and on the second day of the retreat City Manager Rochelle Small-Toney and her team presented a proposed strategic plan for affordable housing in Rocky Mount.
According to the document provided to the newspaper on Tuesday by Nunery, of the $43,684.70 for lodging and facilities usage-related expenses in connection with the retreat, the City of Rocky Mount paid $23,299.25 to the Omni Grove Park Inn for charges for hotel rooms. The document said that of the remainder of the $43,684.70, the city paid $12,173.27 to the Omni Grove Park Inn for charges for food and meals, $5,428.52 to the Omni Grove Park Inn for charges for the use of a conference room that served as the meeting place for the retreat, $3,271.70 for what was classified as “group meals” and $852.50 for what was classified as a “group tour.”
The document did not provide further information about those two items, although retreat participants went on a tour of selected housing projects in Asheville.
During the retreat, Angie Arrington of Evolve Consulting Inc. and Valerie Batts of Visions Inc., both of whom do consulting and training, served as facilitators. Batts served as a facilitator via teleconferencing.
The document Nunery provided to the newspaper on Tuesday said $12,500 was paid to Evolve Inc. and $8,050 was paid to Visions Inc.
Visions’ website also lists Angela Bryant as a co-founder of Visions. Bryant is a former city council member, a former state house member and a former state senator.
The document Nunery provided to the newspaper on Tuesday gave a breakdown of which municipal officials and staff and the three council members were paid and how much for expenses in connection with the retreat.
The municipal officials, staff and three council members reimbursed were:
- Videographer Mark Adcox, $349.44 for mileage and $114.50 for meals, totaling $463.94.
- Councilman T.J. Walker, $344.96 for mileage and $112.50 for meals, totaling $457.46.
- Policy Analyst Jayson Dawkins, $345.52 for mileage and $91.50 for meals, totaling $437.02.
- Councilman Andre Knight, $344.96 for mileage and $89.50 for meals, totaling $434.46.
- Small-Toney, $343.39 for mileage and $89.50 for meals, totaling $432.89.
- City Clerk Pamela Casey, $344.96 for mileage and $76.25 for meals, totaling $421.21.
- Tanika Cooper, who at the time was Small-Toney’s executive assistant, $320.99 for mileage and $91.50 for meals, totaling $412.49.
- Assistant City Manager Elton Daniels, $343.54 for mileage and $68.50 for meals, totaling $412.04.
- Planning Administrator JoSeth Bocook, $342.72 for mileage and $50 for meals, totaling $392.72.
- Councilman Reuben Blackwell, $344.96 for mileage.
- Development Services Director Will Deaton, $342.72 for mileage.
- Community Code Administrator Kelly Cook, $342.72 for mileage.
The document Nunery provided also said media consultant Dorothy Brown Smith was reimbursed $281.90 for mileage.
The document Nunery provided said three residents were reimbursed for mileage:
- Garland Jones, $348.32. Jones is chairman of the Central City Revitalization Panel.
- Robert Davis, $347.20. Davis leads the Meadowbrook Community Improvement Association.
- Lea Henry, $338.24. Henry at the time was an appointee to the Business Development Authority.
Nunery told the Telegram on Wednesday that the council invited residents to attend the retreat and that several residents also came at their own expense for a large part of the retreat.
During the council’s discussion before the council’s vote on Feb. 8 about the location of the retreat, Councilman Lige Daughtridge was the chief dissenting voice against having it in Asheville. Daughtridge cited safety-related concerns amid the coronavirus pandemic as a key reason.
Mayor Sandy Roberson before the council’s vote proposed the Rocky Mount Event Center as the location for the 2021 retreat, given the long drought there as a result of safety measures put in place due to the pandemic. Roberson said he believed having the 2021 retreat at the event center would show support for the community during this period of time.
Knight made the motion for Asheville as the location of the 2021 retreat, with Blackwell seconding and Walker and Councilman Richard Joyner voting yes.
Daughtridge voted no, as did Councilman W.B. Bullock and Councilwoman Chris Miller.
Daughtridge, who went to the retreat, told the newspaper that he received a group rate for lodging, that he paid the Omni Grove Park Inn for lodging and that he reimbursed the city for meals and incidentals.
Daughtridge provided the newspaper with the amounts regarding his participation during the retreat as follows: Lodging, $607.94; meals, $409.29; and incidentals, $100.
Generally, incidentals are gratuities and other minor fees or costs in addition to the main service, item or event paid for in connection with business-related activities.
Daughtridge told the newspaper he did not request any reimbursement from the city as a result of his participating in the retreat.
Two of the council members did not make the trip to Asheville.
Miller participated in the retreat via teleconferencing and as a result, she did not incur any expenses.
Bullock told the newspaper he used his computer at his residence to listen to a majority of the retreat.
The document Nunery provided said Roberson, who went to the retreat, paid the city $931.25 as a reimbursement for lodging and facilities usage-related expenses.
State law specifically makes clear that all records made or received in connection with the transaction of public business are open to viewing. The law also makes clear this applies to all types of local government agencies and all types of records, including paper and electronic records, recordings, films, videos and photographs.
The catch is that, even though the city’s 2021 retreat ended more than five months ago, the law does not compel public officials to respond to requests for open records by a specific time.
The 2020 retreat was supposed to be in Raleigh but was canceled due to the pandemic.