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A BPR series takes a closer look at local governmental spending.

Show Me The Receipt: Asheville’s $22,711 city council retreat

Consultant Amy Climer takes a selfie with City of Asheville leadership at the annual retreat.
Laura Hackett
Consultant Amy Climer takes a selfie with City of Asheville leadership at the annual retreat.

Welcome to ‘Show Me the Receipt,’ a new BPR series that takes a closer look at local government spending. Have a contract or bill that you’d like us to examine more closely? Send your tip to LastNight@bpr.org.

Asheville City Council recently hosted its annual retreat, a two-day affair that puts council members and high-level city staffers in a room together with a facilitator to figure out strategic priorities ahead of the year’s budget process.

Based on public records, the total bill for the retreat was $22,711.38, including facilitator and catering fees.

Let’s break down the basics…

The city paid Climer Consulting, a local business, $20,000 to lead the event, which lasted around two days and was held in the city-owned banquet room of Harrah’s Cherokee Center.

The total price of food for the event was $2,711.38, with lunch provided by Cooking With Comedy and breakfast from 67 Biltmore, both local vendors, according to public records.

How was the deal made?

According to city policy, no Request for Proposals (RFP) or formal bidding process is required for contracts under $30,000. City staff can decide to hire for services or make purchases under that threshold without analyzing competitive bids or publicizing the opportunity for other businesses to submit proposals for the contract.

Climer began facilitating meetings and other retreat preparation before finalizing a contract with the city on Feb. 12.

“Regarding the procedures for this level of contract, staff had an awareness of competitive pricing for this type of contract based on prior year contracts for City Council retreat facilitation,” city spokesperson Kim Miller told BPR in an email.

“Ms. Climer’s quote was determined to be reasonable based on those amounts and her qualifications were determined to be a good fit for facilitating a City Council retreat. Additionally, awarding the contract to Ms. Climer provided an opportunity to invest in a local and woman-owned business.”

What did the contract require?

Under the terms of the contract, signed on Feb. 12, Climer Consulting agreed to:

  • Conduct pre-retreat meetings and interviews with participants.
  • Lead a two-day retreat, guiding participants through structured discussions, team-building activities and strategic planning exercises. 
  • Provide a post-retreat report summarizing the key outcomes, agreements, and action items identified during the retreat. 

What was delivered?

The retreat took place over the span of about 14 hours at Harrah’s Cherokee Center in downtown Asheville. It included City Council members and upper-level city staff such as City Manager Debra Campbell, City Attorney Brad Branham and Assistant City Managers Ben Woody and Rachel Wood.

Team building activities included “Rose, Bud, and Thorn,” which asked participants to identify the ways council worked together effectively, the ways they did not work well together, and opportunities for improved collaboration.

Participants were also tasked with choosing illustrated and trademarked “Climer Cards” to express what they are proud of from last year and hopeful about in the coming year of their work.

The retreat included:

  • 2 hours of team-building activities, including “Rose, Bud, and Thorn” and “Climer Cards.” 
  • 3.5 hours of presentations from city staff 
  • 2 hours of lunch and other breaks 
  • 6 hours of discussion around goals led by Climer

For the most part, the city’s six strategic goals remained the same as last year with a notable addition of infrastructure into the third strategic goal.

Climer Consulting produced a 12-page post-retreat report.

The report includes the “Climer Cards” selected by participants and their responses for “Rose, Bud, Thorn.”

The report also noted that “steady progress is being made especially in the areas of housing, public safety, and core services” and that “advanced planning and technical assessments have increased knowledge and awareness in terms of infrastructure are being used to inform the upcoming budget process and possible GO Bond.”

Was the city pleased with the services?

BPR reached out to Campbell, the city manager, for a comment.

In an email, she wrote: "We are pleased with the facilitation of this year’s City Council retreat and proud to work with a local Asheville, woman-owned business."

What did the business say?

Facilitator Amy Climer, owner of Climer Consulting, said the $20,000 fee was not just for the two-day retreat.

According to the city, Climer held 12 meetings with city council and staff members in the several months that led up to the retreat.

She told BPR she would usually charge $24,000 for a consulting fee, but that she gave the city a local discount.

“What I'm bringing in is 25 years of experience. I also have a background in team development. I have my PhD in this and leadership and change, and my research was on teams,” Climer said when asked about her fee. “There are definitely ways to get other facilitators who are less expensive. And yeah, maybe you get what you pay for.”

Putting the cost in context:

The city retreat facilitation cost $20,000. The amount is approximately the annual salary of a city council member, an elected part-time role. It is slightly less than the annual base pay of some city employees.

The School of Government at UNC offers similar facilitation services for about $5,000 for two days.

In the current fiscal year, the city of Asheville has budgeted around $93 million in salaries and wages. Its total municipal spending budget is around $255 million, city records show.

Laura Hackett joined Blue Ridge Public Radio in June 2023. Originally from Florida, she moved to Asheville more than six years ago and in that time has worked as a writer, journalist, and content creator for organizations like AVLtoday, Mountain Xpress, and the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce. She has a degree in creative writing from Florida Southern College, and in 2023, she completed the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY's Product Immersion for Small Newsrooms program. In her free time, she loves exploring the city by bike, testing out new restaurants, and hanging out with her dog Iroh at French Broad River Park.
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