Improved communication a key concern at Beaufort City Council retreat

February 8, 2011 

  • Also Tuesday, Beaufort City Council met for a regular council meeting and:

  • Advanced plans for a Red Lobster and Olive Garden on Boundary Street. Council gave final approval to a proposal that allows both buildings to sit further from Boundary than currently allowed -- a change requested by local development company 303 Associates and Darden Restaurants, the company that wants to bring the restaurants to the area.

  • Approved a motion requesting that the South Carolina Department of Transportation reduce the speed limit along primary roads in the Boundary Street Master Plan area to 35 mph.

  • When city of Beaufort staff told the public in a news release about plans for its new consultant-led Office of Civic Investment last week, it was news to a majority of City Council members, too.

    Members said Tuesday communication among themselves, staff, consultants, volunteer boards, commissions and the public needs improvement.

    They plan to focus on that issue as they conclude their annual retreat today.

    Led by Virginia-based consultant Camille Wright Miller of The Virginia Group, the two-day retreat kicked off Tuesday morning at the Beaufort Jasper Water and Sewer Authority with presentations from various city departments.

    Council members were later asked for their final thoughts of the day. After praising city staff for its leadership, the community its involvement, the city for its service delivery and intergovernmental cooperation, some raised concerns.

    "I don't feel council is leading the city so much as staff is leading the city," Councilman Mike Sutton said.

    Asked to elaborate after the meeting, Sutton said his concern stems from a lack of communication between different boards and committees and the level of briefing staff provides council as it pushes projects forward faster than council has seen in recent years.

    "We're not used to having a lot of movement forward," Sutton said. "How do you, after all these years of small town government, how do you embrace the next step? ... Sometimes I just feel like it's very difficult to stay tuned in to all the different components."

    Councilman Gary Fordham agreed, saying "city council needs to be more involved with the leadership."

    Mayor Billy Keyserling emphasized after the meeting that although he would have preferred a briefing on the new Office of Civic Investment, it essentially was a reorganization that did not require new money or staff -- the consultants were hired last year under a two year contract -- and fit the city's comprehensive plan.

    "It is the city manager's right to manage the city the way he sees best," Keyserling said. "It would have been nice to know a little ahead of time so that I could have answered your questions or anyone else's questions... . There's a lot going on, and we have to figure out a way that we can share information."

    The news release also contained "ambiguous" language that might have caused confusion about the role of Beaufort's planning, zoning and codes enforcement departments, Keyserling said.

    Although those departments will work in cooperation with the Office of Civic Investment -- led by part-time consultants Craig Lewis of The Lawrence Group and Demetri Baches of Metrocology -- they will still answer to the city manager, not the consultants, Keyserling said.

    City Manager Scott Dadson said staff always tries to include council, and in this case, accidentally sent council copies of the release later than usual.

    "The question is, how do we want to make sure we're sharing information," Dadson said.

    Council will reconvene its retreat today at 9 a.m.

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