The Virginia Beach City Council will hold it's annual Retreat January 21 and 22 (Friday & Saturday) in the conference room of the Department of Economic Development (DED), on the 10th floor of the Armada Hoffler Tower at Town Center. It's scheduled to run from 8:30 A.M. - 5 P.M. each day.
I've attended every Retreat since 2002. I plan to be there again this time, and certainly will blog it. At a previous Retreat, Rosemary Wilson was fretting about trying to get Council's priorities to the public. I said, "I can have them online in a few hours" and did. I've referred to the Retreat as "the Super Bowl of local politics" in that the vast majority of initiatives for 2011 will come up over the weekend and be ranked. It's from those Council discussions and voting that Staff budgets time and money for what the electeds feel is important.
The Retreat agenda is set through telephone interviews facilitator Lyle Sumek holds with Councilmen the week prior. If a single Councilman wants an item discussed, it happens.
Therefore, e-mail any thoughts to City Council no later than January 7. You'll want them to read your comments and have time to digest them before the telephone interviews. That's the main reason I write this post: the vested interests and usual suspects all know to contact Council prior, so why aren't you doing it? (I plead guilty: I've gotten in the custom of e-mailing in my own document beforehand.)
They are long, dry sessions that Jim Wood once compared to watching paint dry. However, for a local political junkie, it's a smorgasbord of prime nuggets. Consume plenty of caffeine beforehand, and even more during the meetings.
There is no opportunity for the public to comment while in session, but you may speak with Council and Staff during the breaks. There will be periodic 5-15 minute breaks, plus the lunch break.
The most important thing to bring with you: something for carrying a load of documents home in. During the full two days, you'll receive a huge pile of paper. Also, something for you to take notes of your own with.
There will be a continental breakfast available in the morning, and lunch is served at midday. Beverages and snacks are normally there throughout the day. Budget cuts in the past couple years have also hit the Retreat spreads, which aren't as fanciful as in the recent past.
While there have been some variations at times, most Retreats follow a simple template.
On Friday morning Council will look at their past goals, and successes of the previous year. Following that, each of those issue items from the telephone interviews will be covered, with some preliminary voting on ranking them.
On Saturday Council's priorities for 2011 will be voted on. The final area of the Retreat will be governance, where internal and housekeeping matters will be discussed.
WHO GOES TO RETREATS?
The Virginian-Pravda will have a reporter there, plus there will be a few political junkies (including myself).
In the recent past interests have had representatives there, but they've dwindled as the City's Budget has tightened. The past couple there's been maybe 5-6 people plus myself, and I've known all but 1-2 of the others.
At the turn of the century, Retreats were held at the Pavilion. That building was booked in 2002, then razed. The 2002 Retreat was at the Virginia Aquarium, an awful location. Noise from the visitors outside the room made it difficult to hear in the meeting. After that, Council went to DED's conference room. The best table and chairs of any of the three, but the space is cramped and the restrooms are a nice hike away. The past couple have been at the convention center.
I'm perplexed by the decision to go back to DED. There's not only more space at the convention center, but the caterer to handle food and beverage. One of the most bizarre sights at Retreats is watching DED employees with postgraduate degrees being utilized as menial labor for the session.
It will probably be a shorter session, adjourning early on Saturday. With all 11 incumbents coming back and money tight, new initiatives should be limited. However, I still expect to see a new major initiative or two floated.
Yes, light rail will come up, and someone (cough...Bill DeSteph...cough) will probably be crazy enough to try to get Council to commit to a referendum. However, until the AA/SDEIS is back and a Locally Preferred Alternative (LPA) chosen, it shouldn't even be on the table.
The most intriguing may be fiscal policy. After having drawn down the cash reserves in the last two Budgets, and with the election behind them, will there be any tax or fee increases proposed for FY 2012? (Unless the economy improves, probably.)