Almanac

Viewpoint - December 11, 2013

Editorial: Pricey offsite meetings send wrong message

Was it necessary for two city of Menlo Park executives to each conduct offsite meetings in late October and early November? Especially when adequate meeting rooms and overnight accommodations could have been found in the city for substantially less than the $11,412 spent for a retreat conducted by City Manager Alex McIntyre for his managers at the Beach House in Half Moon Bay. The second outing, by Community Services Manager Cherise Brandell, was a daytrip for 13 staff members to the Yountville Community Center near Napa at a cost of $2,200. The group stopped at a winery on the way home but at no-cost to the city, Ms. Brandell said.

Neither retreat violated city guidelines, but in the eyes of one member of the city council, now-Mayor Ray Mueller, the offsite junkets could send a message that the city is not striving to get the most out of every taxpayer-dollar. Mr. Mueller ultimately agreed that while he was concerned about the cost of the Half Moon Bay trip, he said "it does appear that quite a bit was accomplished." But he felt there " was a lack of judgment in organizing the event" in Napa Valley. And Mayor Peter Ohtaki, who just completed his one-year term in the mayor's chair, said he hope future retreats are held in town.

Should taxpayers be worried that the city is spending far more than necessary to wine and dine staff members at remote offsite retreats? Perhaps. Why should taxpayers underwrite mini-getaways for a meeting that just as easily could be held in town. The city manager said he was unaware that 13 of the top Community Service staff members were away for the day at a Napa retreat, even after being questioned about it earlier by an Almanac reporter. There are plenty of hotels in the city where such events could be held, and by doing so the city would be keeping its money in the community by "shopping locally."

None of this is to say that offsite retreats should be ruled out forever, but before planning a remote meeting, the city's managers should give serious thought to appearances and the fallout that might be generated.

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