News story about retreat: City Council plans annual March retreat
Editorials about retreat: Brasstown Bold
Letter to the editor about retreat: Robbing from the poor
Guest Column: A place to prepare
Stories about Randy Conner: City hires grant writer; senior planner leaves
Councilman Mike Whatley spoke out Wednesday night against recent criticism directed toward the city council for their decision to have their annual retreat at Brasstown Valley Resort and Spa. Whatley said he thought media and public portrayal of the decision was unfair. His full speech is below:
“This is something I put on the agenda, and it’s not exactly a re-discussion to change anything about the elected officials retreat, its just comments that I feel I need to make, and maybe educate some of the people that don’t quite understand what a retreat is …
“My distinguished colleague Mr. Dalton and I had a wonderful conversation, about two or three hours, a long time. I don’t think he minds if I say this … we discussed the use of the word vacation, and came to the conclusion that, we both came to the conclusion, that maybe that’s not the perfect word to use for this particular event, because it just gave … it just gave the media some fat lighter to go with to light a fire and get going.
“I’ve been to retreats all my business career. I know what a retreat is. I know what they're for. I know what there purpose is to accomplish. A retreat means that you go somewhere in a neutral position, and you work as a unit and our employees have made great preparations that this retreat, whether it was going to be held here in this room or at Brasstown Bald, was to be a great success, because we have a lot of outsiders coming to this year to help us make big decisions for the upcoming year and years of this city.
“The city is on a great course, and I hate to see one word or the media take advantage of that and try to make the council and mayor divisive. We need to work as a unit. We need to work as a whole whether we agree or not agree. We need to work together. And I was on the committee to pick the place and time. Ms. Franklin was on that committee as well as Ms. Goodman, and we picked that particular place and time with all of the information that was given to us. At the time that was the best decision we could have made.
“I’ve been to Brasstown probably 20 to 25 times in my life and it ain’t never been on a vacation. It’s always been on a training session or a seminar. Number one because they have outstanding facilities for that purpose and that’s the reason Zell Miller built the thing. He didn’t build it for a resort. He didn’t build it for a spa. He built it for conferences and meetings and retreats as you might say.
“Tonight I was going to back up my decision in voting to go to Brasstown and do something different, just because I got tired of rocks being thrown at my fellow councilmen and my self. I have thick skin. You can throw rocks at me as long as you tell the truth. But when you start throwing them at people doing their best, and it ain’t for the money, doing the best job they can do and we can do for the citizens of this great community and start throwing rocks at them … like the Bible says 'who is without sin cast the first stone.'
“I just got a little tired about every time I opened up the paper there was some little doodle about it or some article about it. And yeah, we could have maybe saved a few dollars. A few dollars. But in the big scheme of things, we can spend $16 or $20 million dollars and nobody blinks an eye. And then we go to spend $5,000 or $4,000 on a retreat to do good work for of the citizens of this community and we get criticized like we’re a bunch of self-centered, self-seeking bunch of people that only want to go somewhere and let the city pay for it. That’s wrong. That’s dead wrong.
“To me, this is my opinion, you’ll probably tear me up tomorrow, to me a media whatever it is, a newspaper, radio, television, I don’t care, the way the world situation is in, the way the country situation is in with the economy, ought to be emphasizing some of the more important things and some of the more good things that are happening in the community to keep the community together. All this has done is make a mountain out of a molehill and got people in the county that don’t even know what the heck they’re talking about -- one wrote about the county taking a retreat, well the county’s not even taking a retreat (Mayor Kim Carter – well they are) … don’t even know what a retreat is, got it divisive, thinking we’re up here thinking we’re better than everybody else.
“Personally I’ve taken a huge hit in this economy. I got laid off. I got put on disability retirement. My money, this is nobody’s business, but I’ll tell you, cut 60 percent and they tax that. So, I’m not doing the best in the world myself. I’m just a little bit tired of when people do a real good job like these people up here do and then get rocks thrown at them because of it. I don’t think it’s fair, I don’t think it’s right.
“I was going to suggest that we move it to the FFA Camp just because it would settle everything down, maybe, and keep people from writing what they didn’t know about and writing in the letter to the editor what they didn’t know about because perception to a lot of people is the truth. And when you got people writing in to the newspaper that they know absolutely nothing about, and have probably 50 percent of the people or 40 percent of the people out there that think that’s the truth. This community doesn’t need that. this community has done very well, and its because of, not just us, but because of the employees of this city, the department heads and the city council and mayor. That’s why the city does as well as it does. It ain’t got a dang thing to do with we just because we sold the cable. It’s because we keep a tight reign on this. All we do is just watch and listen to what our department heads have to say and they do a wonderful job.
“So, I guess I’m on the soap box, but before I say too much more about some other things that were written in here about … when’s enough, enough?”
To show his feelings, Whatley tossed an edition of The Covington News to the floor beside him.
Fellow council members Chris Smith and Keith Dalton also spoke about the retreat. Their full thoughts are below:
Smith - “I would like to make one comment. Of course this vote came prior to my being on the council, and I understand and I sat there and watched the vote and understood what transpired. My concern from the beginning was the city council as a whole didn’t take the low bid, and I couldn’t understand why we couldn’t keep it local. That was the problem I had. I’m catching heat on it also Mike, and I didn’t even vote on it.
“People are so upset about losing their house and losing their jobs, and they’re seeing this as thing we’re throwing it in their face, that we were going to spend this money and go with the highest bid, not even the middle bid. (After the meeting it was clarified that Brasstown was in fact the middle bid.) I just had a real problem with that. I’m going to go on the retreat because it was voted on prior to me being here, but I’m going to pay my way. The city is not going to pay it, because I can’t do this. It’s just not right That’s what I had to say.”
Dalton – “Mike and I had a long conversation and we agreed to disagree. I said from the get go, I just don’t think with the current economic times - if things were different would have a different attitude about it - but with things the way they are, I just don’t see spending extra money.
“Last year we did the FFA Camp and went home and slept in our own beds. I just don’t see paying lodging and all that when you don’t have too. We’re still fine, but we’re going to disagree on that, and that’s where I stand.”
At the end of the council meeting, Councilwoman Janet Goodman commented on the media coverage of recently hired Grant Writer Randy Conner.
“Ditto to what Mike said, but I’d also like to comment on Randy’s position because I think it’s been in the paper too many times and every time it’s been the same thing. I’m not perfect, there wasn’t but one and I’ve never seen him, but people have to be allowed to make mistakes because mistakes happen. We all know that.
“I think the people here at the City of Covington are very capable people and they know what they’re doing. If you’re going to hire people and you’re not going to trust their judgment then they don’t need to be in the position. They researched it. He was real open about everything. And I just think it’s time to leave it alone. Every time I read about it was the same thing. It’d be something different if something came up, but it never did. And I was in the newspaper 18 years, I mean I know a little bit about it. I just don’t want to continue to read the same thing over and over and over again, especially when its negative.”
To read stories, editorials, columns and letters to the editor about both topics, click on the links in the “Related Content” sidebar.