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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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City Council Retreat Could Cost Taxpayers $6,000 Most Members Voted For Work Session, Hiring Out-Of-Town Consultant

A retreat to help Spokane City Council members set goals for the coming year could cost taxpayers at least $6,000.

The council earlier this week told City Manager Roger Crum to hire an out-of-town consultant to “facilitate” a weekend retreat at the Airport Ramada Inn.

Crum is talking with William Mathis of Napa, Calif., about running the retreat planned for later this month.

Mathis, the founder of a management consulting firm specializing in city and county issues, would charge from $6,000 to $7,000 to help the council decide what it wants to do in 1995.

An overnight stay at the hotel will run each person - 12 in all, including seven council members, four staff people and the consultant - about $51, plus meals. Council members and staff can decide whether they want to pay their own way or have taxpayers pick up the tab.

Councilwoman Phyllis Holmes, chairwoman of the retreat committee, said hiring Mathis was one way to make sure the group sets realistic goals.

“You have to invest in yourself to get a return,” Holmes said.

Two councilmen, Joel Crosby and Chris Anderson, voted against the plan, saying it was a waste of taxpayers’ money.

“We’re entering an era where we have to be concerned about reducing expenses,” Crosby said.

“While it might be reasonable, it’s not something we should be spending,” Anderson said, adding that the theory an out-of-town consultant could somehow do a better job than a local person is “erroneous.”

Council members plan to spend all day Jan. 20 and a half-day Jan. 21 at the Ramada discussing what they would like to see accomplished this year.

Several council members who voiced concerns about the retreat package ultimately voted for it.

Mayor Jack Geraghty said he thought the council should pay its own way, and while a consultant is necessary, there are several Spokane people who might cost less than Mathis.

Councilman Orville Barnes said he just wanted to see something accomplished during the retreat.

In the past, Barnes said, retreats “have been a waste of my time, and I’m not going to waste it again.”

Councilman Mike Brewer didn’t mind paying for an accomplished consultant. “If you pay peanuts, you get monkeys.”

He said he’d rather stay at home than in a hotel.

Crum told the council he’d sat through at least 15 retreats and a consultant is a necessary expense.

The council runs a $300 million operation, which is a “fairly difficult task,” he said. “My personal recommendation is that we give this a shot.”

Despite complaints from some council members and residents, Crum said Wednesday that “almost anyplace in the world … it is normal to use a facilitator to help run a retreat.”

He added that past retreats used paid or volunteer consultants and always took place at a hotel, with the cost ranging from $2,000 to $10,000.

While some council members might decide to go home for the night, “we encourage people to be there steadily for the whole time,” Crum said.

Past councils have spent weekends at Mount Spokane, Templin’s in Post Falls and Twin Lakes Village near Rathdrum, Idaho.

Hiring someone like Mathis, who specializes in problems facing municipal governments, would get the council “working as a team,” Crum said.

“Mathis’ specialty is working with groups to come together and set goals and objectives.”

Mathis’ resume trumpets his expertise as “retreat facilitation and presentation,” “team-building workshops” and “government restructuring and refocusing.”

If Crum and Mathis can work out a deal, the consultant would meet with each council member before the retreat so he can work out an agenda.

Council members would review Mathis’ suggestions before deciding whether to bring him back to Spokane on Jan. 20.

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