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Officials cancel Brasstown retreat

COVINGTON -- The city of Covington is canceling its March retreat to Brasstown Valley Resort and Spa, City Manager Steve Horton said Wednesday.

Horton said he got a consensus from council members to cancel the city's contract with the hotel in Young Harris and reschedule at a local facility.

Brasstown Valley has agreed to reduce its cancellation fee by half, Horton said.

A new location for the retreat has not yet been selected, Horton said, adding that he hoped to secure a site in the next day or two.

"I got their blessing to do it," Horton said of the elected officials. "It was not something they initiated. We initiated it in-house. To be real honest, this whole thing is the cloud over the shroud. It's affecting everything we do. It's become the topic. We need to move our operation ahead."

Councilman Mike Whatley, who was on the committee that selected the retreat location and has been outspoken about media coverage and public criticism, said he is pleased that the retreat will be held locally. He said that he was willing weeks ago to change the location but opted not to make that suggestion after learning the city would have to pay a $3,924 cancellation fee. That fee will be reduced to $1,962, according to Horton.

"Everybody should be happy, or most people. We'll still come out a lot better than going out of town, and I'm happy it's happened that way," Whatley said.

"I'm glad that it turned out the way it looks like it's turning out. I'm glad to be somewhat instrumental in that. It was just getting too divisive for not only the citizens, and it didn't need to be that way, but for the City Council itself. This is not the way we need to operate efficiently. I think the retreat is the right thing to do, but maybe we should have looked at it a little closer and decided to do it at home," he added.

The council approved the retreat in December at a cost of $109 per room per night. Though the total number of people attending has never been finalized according to city officials, based on information given to the Citizen by Personnel Director Ronnie Cowan in December, the hotel stay would have cost approximately $3,500, not including meals and other expenses and a $5,000 cost for the facilitator.