Richland County Council members voted this week to hold their annual retreat in downtown Charleston early next year, despite having multiple local options presented to them and without having cost estimates to factor into their decision.
The retreat, at which council members and staff discuss plans for major policy items for the coming year, will be held Jan. 27-29 at Embassy Suites on Meeting Street. Council voted 8-3 to hold the retreat in Charleston, with council members Julie-Ann Dixon, Bill Malinowski and Seth Rose dissenting.
Dixon, Malinowski and Rose voted to hold the retreat at the Richland County Administration Building in Columbia.
Embassy Suites in Columbia and the YMCA in Lexington were both offered as options for Jan. 27-29.
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Malinowski cited three reasons for holding the retreat locally: to save money, to spend the money within the community and to give citizens an easy opportunity to attend the meeting.
“I think the people should have easy access to the government, and we’re not doing that,” Malinowski said. “Isn’t there also such a thing as leading by example? (If we’re asking people to) contribute more at tax time and tighten their belts, isn’t that what we should be doing?”
County spokeswoman Beverly Harris said there were no cost comparisons immediately available for different locations because details yet to be finalized will factor into the cost estimate. The options presented to council were based only on the facilities’ availability for particular dates, not on cost, Harris said.
Other options offered for different date ranges included the Madren Conference Center in Clemson, the Newberry Firehouse Conference Center, Wild Dunes Resort in Isle of Palms, Embassy Suites in Myrtle Beach and Parklane Adult Activity Center in Columbia.
Councilman Damon Jeter, one of the eight who voted to hold the retreat in Charleston, said going out of town forces council members to commit their time and attention to the work at hand.
“If I’m in Columbia, I tend to say, ‘Well, I guess I could run over here and do a little work and get back in time to talk about this subject,’” said Jeter, a State House lobbyist whose busiest season is in January, when the Legislature reconvenes.
Meeting out of town also puts council members in a better environment to bond with one another outside of council chambers, Jeter said.
The cost of retreating out of town “is a legitimate question,” Jeter said. “But we budget for it every year. ... There’s nothing more important than our annual retreat. It’s money well spent.”
Last year’s council retreat was held at the Wampee Conference Center in Moncks Corner.
Reach Ellis at (803) 771-8307.