by: Mike Petchenik Updated:
ROSWELL, Ga. - Roswell leaders are defending their decision to hold a leadership retreat at a luxury lake resort.
Channel 2's Mike Petchenik was there Thursday as several members of the council left City Hall for the two-day retreat at the Ritz Carlton Hotel at Reynolds Plantation on Lake Oconee.
"This isn't a vacation. This is work," said Mayor Jere Wood. "The focus of the retreat will be about dealing with the public, dealing with folks like you."
Wood said getting away is important for the council so that they can focus on the issues at hand without the distractions of day-to-day problems at home. City officials told Petchenik eight city leaders and a facilitator would be attending the retreat.
Officials said the hotel rooms cost about $170 per night, plus the cost of meeting room rental and meals. Petchenik requested an accounting for the trip, which city leaders said they would provide upon the council's return.
"I think when you've got decisions to be made in the city of Roswell and the budget the council controls, this is an insignificant expenditure," said Wood.
Taxpayer watchdog group Roswell for Fiscal Responsibility doesn't see it that way. Co-founder Cade Thacker told Petchenik the decision to stay at the Ritz-Carlton resort is a "slap in the face" to city taxpayers.
"We were extremely disappointed," he said. "There's no reason to go that far, no reason for the expense."
Thacker said he believes there are plenty of places in metro Atlanta where the council could have held the retreat.
"They seem to have a willful disregard for taxpayer's money," said Thacker. "They seem to spend it as they want. When the citizens speak up, they brush it aside."
Councilwoman Betty Price shared Thacker's concerns about the trip. She told Petchenik she would have rather held the retreat at a state facility.
"I would rather go somewhere you can learn something," she told Petchenik. "I was concerned with the optics of an expensive resort, didn't seem to fit our needs."
Price said she agreed to attend the retreat, but will be paying out of pocket the difference in cost between the Ritz and a less expensive location.
"If that's where everybody wants to go," she said. "I'm not going to rain on their parade."
Roswell isn't the only North Fulton government to hold a retreat.
A few weeks ago, Alpharetta leaders held meetings at the Hotel Indigo in Athens at a cost of $2,950.02 for several city leaders, including the mayor and most of the city council.
In June, Johns Creek officials tell us they held a strategic planning workshop at the Stone Mountain Conference Center at a cost of $4,500 for the 30 people who attended the first day and the 20 who attended the second. Only two people spent the night.
Sandy Springs held its annual planning session Wednesday at the Heritage, a city-owned building. The city paid $700 for a catered lunch.