MATTHEWS – Mark Tofano told elected leaders Feb. 10 at Matthews Town Hall why they should not hold their planning conference out of town.
Tofano compared the conference to a poll tax, in that constituents would have to travel 113 miles to Blowing Rock to participate in their local government. He contends that anyone strapped for cash, time or transportation would not be able to attend, including single mothers, people with disabilities and low-income residents.
“Putting aside the financial irresponsibility of your decision, the cost to attend and the inability to attend makes a farce of the term ‘open meeting,’” Tofano told commissioners during public comment. “There is no valid reason for conducting the business of the people away from the people … none. Any reasons that you may give can easily be shown as being self-serving.”
Commissioners will start their retreat Feb. 27 and 28 at Matthews Town Hall, discussing things like police, fire and EMS response times, as well as NCDOT road projects and sidewalk gaps.
The retreat continues Feb. 28 through March 1 at The Chetola Lodge in Blowing Rock, where they’re scheduled to discuss a potential 2020 bond referendum for road construction and repair, affordable housing and the LYNX Silver Line project.
Now that I think about it, talking about potholes while getting an exfoliating back massage sounds refreshing. Or talking about affordable housing while grazing from an Artisan Cheese Board sounds splendid.
I agree with Tofano. Going out of town to have long conversations with neighbors about your town is a waste of time and money. A birdie close to town hall tells me that the trip will cost $4,600, excluding mileage reimbursement.
But the cost doesn’t bother me as much as the lack of access.
Granted, I realize that commissioners likely won’t vote on anything official. These types of meetings are designed to talk through major issues and build consensus among commissioners. The town manager uses the feedback to develop strategies and solutions over the course of the coming year or term.
Proponents of such retreats say going out of town cuts down on distractions and provides a bonding experience for a board with new members. But can’t y’all just turn off your cell phones or go to Urban Air Trampoline and Adventure Park in Mint Hill?
I believe the board is missing an opportunity to engage with the public. It runs counter to a lot of the efforts I’ve seen from this board over the past year, such as answering questions on Facebook Live or meeting with constituents over coffee.
Holding these types of meetings locally could lead to valuable feedback from constituents.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t wave my fat finger at Mint Hill, too. Mint Hill tends to be more fiscally conservative than Matthews, but commissioners held their retreat Feb. 7 to 9 about 70 miles away from town hall at the Crowne Plaza Hickory to discuss short-term and long-term planning. The mayor and two of the four commissioners are new to the board.
Mayor Brad Simmons did report several ideas from the retreat that gives me the impression that they’ll be more transparent to the public, such as streaming meetings and launching a citizen steering committee.
County commissioners held their annual retreat last month at Central Piedmont Community College’s Harris Campus, while the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education held its retreat Feb. 4 at Cordelia Park in Charlotte. Props to them.
I’m very tempted to request the mayor and commissioners allow me to take photos of their eyebrows, cuticles and feet before and after the retreat to ensure they did some work at this thing. Or better yet, maybe I can recruit some people to attend the first part of the retreat at town hall wearing white Turkish spa towels over our clothes and around our heads.