LITHONIA -- Improving communication among board members was the focus of a day-long retreat held Tuesday by the Rockdale County Board of Commissioners.
Chairman Richard Oden, Post 1 Commissioner Oz Nesbitt and Post 2 Commissioner JaNice Van Ness participated in the retreat, along with County Attorney Qader Baig, Rockdale County Clerk Jennifer Rutledge, Director of Community Affairs and Innovative Programs Tonya Parker, and Assistant to the Chairman Katrina Holloway. Several members of the public attended sporadically throughout the day, including William Murraine and Chip Hatcher, two members of the Rockdale County Water and Sewerage Authority. The retreat was held at the Allen Entrepreneurial Institute International Conference Center on Evans Mill Road in Lithonia.
The session was facilitated by Millicent St. Claire, an accelerated learning specialist, author and personal development coach, who told commissioners that "everything in life comes down to relationships and communication."
By the end of the day, commissioners had agreed that they need to spend more time establishing goals for the current year and beyond. The commissioners voted unanimously to hold a goal-setting retreat for 2013 sometime this month prior to the State of the County address on Jan. 31.
St. Claire said she would facilitate future retreats at no cost "because I want this to work, because I would love to see you operated as a model community. I want to be part of that."
Tuesday's retreat cost $1,400, with $500 of that going toward the facilitator and advance work that she did, according to county sources. Oden said the owner of the conference center is a friend of his and the use of the facility was donated. An itemized breakdown of the remaining $900 was requested but was not provided by the county.
The morning portion of the retreat was devoted to exercises that would help commissioners and staff members develop positive attitudes and communication skills. The afternoon session was set aside for commissioners to air their grievances and talk about confrontational issues that exist among the board members.
"There are many other places where people are working together in harmony, and that has to be our goal," said St. Claire.
After the lunch break, Oden presented newspaper articles about elected officials in other counties who had become embroiled in scandals related to unethical or illegal behavior. He alluded to some areas where Rockdale County may not have been in compliance with state regulations, such as those for purchasing and contracts. He also cautioned fellow commissioners against making demands on staff members and to avoid situations that would bring negative attention to Rockdale County.
"The media puts us into a bad position because they have to sell papers," said Oden. "Anything we do, we are subject to public scrutiny."
St. Claire, who had interviewed each commissioner individually prior to the retreat, presented grievances the elected officials had shared with her.
Both Van Ness and Nesbitt had complained about Chief of Staff Greg Pridgeon, who tendered his resignation Friday. Van Ness had said Pridgeon blocked communication with the chairman and did not respond quickly enough to issues. Nesbitt had said that there was a disconnection in communication with the chief of staff and that Pridgeon did not serve all of the commissioners equally.
Oden's chief complaints included communication problems among the commissioners and a lack of participation by the other commissioners in setting goals.
Oden said his primary objective Tuesday was to set goals for the coming year that would be in sync with a regional economic development strategy developed by the Atlanta Regional Commission. Oden chaired the ARC committee that developed the plan.
He said he had set goals each year during his previous term and assessed how well those goals had been met, but had had little input from Nesbitt and Van Ness.
Among the goals Oden presented Tuesday were: workforce development; development of a business-friendly environment; promotion of Rockdale County in a unified manner; promotion of the county as a good place to live, work, visit and do business; expansion of enterprise zones, opportunity zones and implementation of urban redevelopment strategies; and expansion of infrastructure, including development of a civic auditorium and convention and trade center complex.