Monday, April 20, 2009

County buys $13.50 bowl of popcorn

Editor's Note: Welcome to the Paper Trail, a new blog where Observer reporters will share the memos and other documents that help explain stories making headlines in local government.

$13.50 for a bowl of buttered popcorn. $69.95 a head for a BBQ dinner buffet. $2.75 for bottles of water.


Those are some of the highlights of invoices detailing the $9,598 that Mecklenburg County spent for food and food service at the two-day retreat for county commissioners held in January at the Lodge at Ballantyne Resort. Click here to see the documents. The Bissell Company, which owns the Lodge, donated accommodations for the retreat.


County Manager Harry Jones discussed the tab for the annual retreat Friday in his weekly memo to commissioners. Jones said he had been questioned by a reporter about the cost of the retreat.


As the Observer reported Sunday, Jones wrote the county decided to pay for the food to avoid the appearance of any wrong doing in accepting the free accommodations from the Bissell company.


Jones defended the food costs, noting the board developed rapport with colleagues and decided to defer a bond sale that officials said would save $18 million in debt payments next year.


The $9,598 covered five meals, plus various drinks and snacks for 28 people: commissioners, county staff and retreat facilities, according to invoices obtained Monday by the Paper Trail. It also included taxes and a 22 percent service charge for the meals, which were catered from the resort.


A comparison of the county’s invoices and the catering menu on the Ballantyne Resort’s Web site shows the county was charged the regular price for its food. The company also requires a minimum number of guests for its buffet-style meals.


For example, the Carolina BBQ buffet, which the county purchased for the Thursday dinner at the retreat, requires at least 40 guests. The total tab for the dinner, including taxes and a service charge was $3,689.03.


What did they get for that? Well, the menu includes lemon and herb baked salmon cakes and BBQ beef short ribs, salads, and red velvet cake, among other things. APRIL BETHEA

43 comments:

Anonymous said...

$13.50 for a bowl of popcorn? And no movie? #ell, for that price, they can hold their next retreat in my MY backyard!

Anonymous said...

Hey, Harry, build rapport and make bond decisions at a booth in the Showmars at the government center. And pay for it our of your own pocket, not with my money, you crook.

Anonymous said...

Those are the prices hotels charge. Granted, we may think they are high, but they are what they are. Can we stop demonizing meetings and retreats for corporations and the like? The hospitality industry is an industry that is hurting just like everyone else's is. Lets allow these state officials to spend the money and put it back in the community.
My hotel laid off half of its management staff this past week due to slow business. Way to go, post an article that will scare companies that need to have legitimate meetings in hotels and conference centers. Companies are already holding off because of how everyone reacted to AIG, lets go ahead and let honest companies make their money.

Sarah said...

This is an outrage. None of these commissioners should be re-elected. If they are spending this much on food, what else are they wasting money on?

JAT said...

Did Afshin Ghazi cater?

Oh and 5:22, did you and your boss oppose the hike the hotel-motel tax to the highest levy on the East Coast? No, of course you didn't. You bought the lie that the NASCAR Hall would "pay for itself."

The Uptown house of cards is collapsing.

Anonymous said...

How about the amount of money it took The Observer to gather, print and distribute this story? You need to get off the crying and tattling. Bottom line, do you want them effective or not.....? Shame on The Observer wasting all their time, resources and money on non-sense and yellow journalism reporting!

Anonymous said...

Hey, let's see what the Charlotte Observer spends on its retreats & meetings then maybe we can figure out why the paper is so overpriced!

Anonymous said...

"The $9,598 covered five meals, plus various drinks and snacks for 28 people"
28x5=140. $9,598total/140 meals = $68.56 per meal on avg. That's honest& good government?!?

Anonymous said...

I can now understand why the corporations who stay at the Ballantyne Resort expect charter bus operators to load their luggage and treat them royally but not give one cent in the form of a tip for the excellent service provided to them. They got taken by the exorbitant prices and 22 percent (22%) tip inside the hotel. What fools???

David I said...

@ Anon 5:22: As soon as these corporations and government officials stop spending tax payer dollars to do these frivolous meetings, I'm sure the People will stop bashing them for it.

@ Anon 5:50: Your comments have to be the most ignorant I've ever read. Tattling? lol Spending their time, money, & resources on gathering a story, is exactly what newspapers do.

Why do some people think it's acceptable for Gov't officials to go on lavish events to build rapport? Can they not fulfill this function while they are at work? Is it impossible to think they might build more rapport with one another at one of their own homes having a cook-out? Be clear, Gov't is not a profit making business. Or at least it shouldn't be. All of the money they pull in is on the backs of the American citizens. Every single penny of that money should be used for the betterment of the People, not for the luxury of so called "public servants".

Anonymous said...

numbers can be taken any way. Here is a thought for the Observer, take the total cost of the retreat, divide it out per person. because by my figures, 9000.00 divided by 30 people for 2 days comes out to about $150.00 per night total cost. I don't think that is a high cost for taxpayers to foot considering what seemed to be accomplished at the retreat. i am all for accountability, but I am also for giving out all of the information, not just a piece to get folks roled up. This is the Observer, not the National Enquirer.

Anonymous said...

The commissioners should be ashamed of themselves, but they probably aren't. They don't care that the economy is bad and people are hurting because of it. They are greedy and think of themselves only. On the receipt it says 30 for breakfast and 30 for lunch. The BBQ Buffet is for 40. Did some of them call 10 of their friends to come eat? Too bad the middle class can't get in there. We know how to pinch a penny and not waste other people's money.

Anonymous said...

Hey! Ya' nuts at the Mecklenburg County Commission! Ya' paid more than $18.00 per pound for gourmet mixed nuts!!! In the future, contact Nuts to You of Philadephia. "Nobody beats our nuts!" Our best gourmet mixed nuts are $8.79 per pound.

fjgreen said...

Anon 522
I don't think you will find anyone who would want to stop a private owned company from spend their own profit anyway the like, it's their money, but the minute a company uses tax payer money and then goes on a spend spree in Las Vegas, then that is when American's have a problem. County/City Government have cut bus service, laid off workers and cried that they need to raise taxes to make ends meet and then spend that kind of money so they can sit on their fat butt while sipping wine on taxpayer dime..I think is just disrespectful to the taxpayer. Look at it this way, would you give money to someone who said they were broke if you knew they were going to spend it on a 42 inch flat screen TV instead of rent?

Anonymous said...

This is for anonymus at 5:22 PM. This year we won't be able to go to my husband's reunion in Charleston, S.C. because the motels have gone up so much. We usually go down the day before. We no longer live in Charlotte(I read the Observer online) and it takes us about five hours to get there. We wouldn't not go because of an article I read in the Observer. It's about the commissioners wasting taxpayers money to go to these retreats. I hope the Observer continues to keep people informed about what the elected officials do. It's their job!

Christy Shi said...

If the food had been grown by local producers, I would have less of a problem with the cost, as the money goes directly back to our region. Popcorn and pork are among many ingredients that are raised by our local farmers. If the county is as interested in local food as they indicated earlier this year, they could set an example by using caterers that source locally.

Larry said...

Where was the Paper Trail when we needed it before all those toys and money was spent over the last several years?

And the best they can do to start off this mess is to show food costs.

What about the overpayment of salaries to government employees compared to cities our size?

What about the schools renovating schools from old bond money and those schools are not even up to base line standards and tearing them down and building brand new would be about the same?

I could go on but if you are serious then start with why we are paying Ron Tober when we don't have the money?

Anonymous said...

While I agree that the prices for food are high, they are standard for using hotel catering. So are minimum head counts. Plated meals are usually cheaper than buffets, but maybe not always. They also do not let you bring in outside food to hotels so you are stuck using their catering. This is still cheaper than some other options that they could have chosen. Business retreats and planning meetings are also standard procedure. We might not agree with it, but it really is not out of the norm.

Anonymous said...

The difference between United Way's Gloria Pace-King and THESE crooks? At least G.P.-K. wasn't livin' the high life on taxpayer money ...

Anonymous said...

There needs to be a website that posts line by line the spending of our elected officials on a daily basis. As tax payers, its our money and it needs to be accounted for. I bet something like that will run off over 50 percent of crooked elected officials and make room for honest representives who are more interested in bettering our community rather than cushy lifestyle that goes along with it.

6p01157011da89970b said...

Glad to see Paper Trail.
The next Paper Trail should be UNC-Chapel Hill Athlete Department spending and why does the Dean Dome require 1.3 million subsidty from the taxpayers every year to stay open?

Anonymous said...

Well they did stay local this time. I think they normal head out of town for these things. I can imagine the backlash if they went to Grove Park in Asheville.

Anonymous said...

Hey 6:25, when you get an office out of the ghetto, you'll find prices are higher than at the rib shop. You just illustrated how you, as an hourly employee, has no concept of the corporate world or politics. How about Mr. Obama and all his freak shows in the White House? I bet your don't comment on that news do you? Did The Observer prompt you to write your comment? Was it scripted?

Anonymous said...

9:28, you're wrong. Gloria King did live the lavish life on taxpayer/contributors money. Have you been in a cave the last six months? Did you hear or read the news this past week about her car, trips and PSLs? Instead of everyone whining about $68/person at a once a year retreat, look at Gloria's spending trail on our contributions. There's a big difference. I'm sure even you can come to that realization

David I said...

@ Anon 12:11am: You apparently have absolutely no idea of what you write. Since when did downtown Charlotte (where my office is actually located) become the ghetto? The last time I held an hourly rate job was when I was putting myself through the 4th best Architectural School in the country while graduating in the top 3% of my class. Now I own my firm.

Apparently you are one of those ignorant racists that think (using that term extremely loose) if someone believes the government should actually serve the People they must be poor and from the ghetto. Are you really that ignorant to think a man's wages determines his intelligence? Even if I did only make $7/hr, that most assuredly wouldn't be any indication of my grasp on how tax dollars should be spent. The Gov't certainly doesn't mind taking those people's money every week when payroll is dispensed. It's people like yourself who think just because you make a certain amount of money, that entitles you to tell everyone else what they should and shouldn't think. Or should and shouldn't be concerned about. Get over yourself little person. At the end of the day your opinion is no more valuable than the person you thought I was. Matter of fact now that you've written here, it's much less valuable. You've actually proven you don't have a clue.

As far as your characterization of I must be an Obama supporter, again you're WAY off base there. But by no means does that mean I was ignorant enough to support McCain either. I'm not sure what you are referring to in regards to freak shows, but I most certainly have posted about the insane spending by his Administration thus far. Just like I did with Bush.

Now go back to your mid-level job where you probably get to boss around 3 people to make your insignificant life feel somewhat relevant. Next time you decide to post, try and be adult enough to click on the Name/URL button and tells us who you are as opposed to hiding behind the Anon tag. Typical of you people who run around in the woods wearing sheets over your heads. Idiot!

Steve said...

That, my friend, was beautiful.

bec said...

David I, you apparently are the dummy. The person posting the question about the cost for pulling all the details together was talking about wasted County staff time, not newspaper writer time. Every time a bunch of reporters start in on something trivial like this, employees being paid to do other work have to run around providing them documents. Time is money.

David I said...

bec-
Maybe you should learn to read before you start calling people dummy? Here, I'll quote what Anon 5:50pm wrote. "How about the amount of money it took The Observer to gather, print and distribute this story?....Shame on The Observer wasting all their time, resources and money on non-sense and yellow journalism reporting!" What part of "The Observer" did you think was referring to County staff time? I know it's early, but please try and comprehend what you read before making a comment and calling people names.

Anonymous said...

I want my money back! How in the h---can these lowlife crooks get away with SQAUNDERING our CONFISCATED HARD EARNED MONEY? We, who pay all the d--- bils live within our means and these THIEVES can also!

Anonymous said...

I worked at a Conference Resort for years and the prices charged are covering a whole lot more than just the food. First the sales person gets the order together, then it moves to the Conference department where a manager or more likely, an admin works closely gathering all of the details of the meeting. A staff in the kitchen must prepare the food, another staff sets the room, the banquet staff then sets the tables and serves. The stewarding staff then cleans the dishes and the set up staff tears down the room. All of the people after the Sales person passes it on are paid out of that per head price. I do not know whether the government should be footing the bill but that bowl of popcorn just paid a lot of salaries.

Anonymous said...

I loved Harry Jones' comment in an interview with WSOCTV where he stated he had no idea what the food cost was going to be until he got the final bill. Hello...normally all that stuff is agreed upon BEFORE the meetings take place - that's called Planning. What else has that group done without checking the prices ahead of time ? There isn't enough money to fund schools and law enforcement budgets are being cut, but this group can spend nearly $10,000 on food for three days ? Oh yes, excuse me, they gained a rapport with each other.

Anonymous said...

Some of you morons who are agreeing with the costs are forgetting 2 major things.

1. Their hotel accomodations were FREE - so that money was for food and frivolous BS.

2. This is not a PRIVATE company! We paid for this.

Anonymous said...

It's pretty funny, the folks on here decrying the Observer. And to the commenter @6:14PM that said "let's find out what the Observer spends to see why they're so overpriced" -- as a former Observer employee (and certainly I am NO apologist, I quit that crappy company as quickly as I could) -- no such things took place.

Ever. Our annual Christmas party was potluck. The company didn't provide so much as paper cups or beverages. The only annual retreats I went to as a high-level manager, were held at the County Park in Cornelius, or else at the Whitewater Center (where we didn't pay, the O traded out the meeting space). And even THERE, at USNWC our one meal (lunch) was paid completely out of pocket, by each and every employee who attended. Total company expense was $0. They didn't even allow each of us who drove six people to a carpool, to put the mileage on our expense reports!! Not that twenty or so miles roundtrip amounts to a whole hill of beans, but still... Six years I worked at the O, I didn't even have a desk chair, I sat in my office on a plastic chair from the cafeteria (which was closed years ago to save money).

THAT is expense-reduction. Tell Gloria Pace King, or the fatcat county commissioners to tighten their belts like that. At least the O is not a government entity. County comms are... all public servants should be beholden to their stakeholders (we, the people) as public companies such as MNI are beholden to their shareholders.

Blww172 said...

As I look at this situation, the government officials are stewards of the taxpayers money and therefore should be conscientious about how taxpayers money is being spent. Alias, it never seems to be that way. Doesn't the City/County have enough real estate that could house a meeting for 30 or 40 people without going off site. Box lunches work for most of the business community, have they not heard of "Lunch & Learn" meetings. In an economy where people's jobs are on the line that $9,000 plus goes a long way towards some family's survival. Wake up Government..do not make job budget cuts when you can give up luxury situations. People are more important than your stomachs.

Anonymous said...

Lavish events and retreats are a perk of the job. Sure the 8-5 guys don't like it because they could only dream of something like that, but given the chance I'm sure they'd take that anti-establishment hat right off and join in the fun. They'll never do that though. They're stuck in their unhappy existence in message board land.

Anonymous said...

Maybe when Harry ask the county employees to look for cuts thye could have done better at thinking of things if THEY each had a $68 dinner in front of them. Its stupid to tell me how much you saved while there - savings do not give you a license to turn around and grossly overspend( raising to the level of malfeasence )

Anonymous said...

"Those are the prices hotels charge. Granted, we may think they are high, but they are what they are. Can we stop demonizing meetings and retreats for corporations and the like?"

The average hard working blue collar worker who continues to see his paycheck decrease won't stomache this. I'm talking about the man who will NEVER be able to afford your $150 a night rooms, which are FURTHER padded with ridiculous charges and parking fees added on to boot. Well, he doesn't have the money to enjoy these things himself, he DARN sure shouldn't have to foot the bill for his elected officals OR the AIG or other Wall Street clowns who have lost the bulk of his pension.

Ash said...

I find the prices just fine!
Issue may be that why public officers are spendingit... and if there is no mandate in our law then it is OK.

I think reports are making mountain out of mole hill by projecting $13 for popcorns!
:-)

James said...

Ripping off the tax payer is not limited to the federal and state governments. I doubt they accomplished anything at this retreat that they could not have accomplished in their offices.

Anonymous said...

You people are fools - they paid about $10,000 of taxpayer money correct. Well they worked for about 10 hours a day ON THE WEEKEND. 28 people times only $7 per hour times two equals $3,920 of work done at a $7 per hour rate for thier time. Now subtract what thier time is worth and divide by 28 and you get about $115 per day for food and lodging - that aint bad. Not to mention it is being pumped directly back into the local economy. Get a clue people. By the way - Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education's spent $11,000 at a get-together at the Grandover Resort in Greensboro, and the Charlotte City Council had a $34,000 bash at the same digs a week later last year.

Anonymous said...

I hardly think throwing public money into a posh resort in a wealthy area of town which is owned by already wealthy individuals is helping the economy. Stupid is stupid. The meals were overpriced, the end. I dare say this hotel is suffering financial woes right now.

Anonymous said...

Is this really a surprise? Politicians suck the taxpayer dry all the time!

Anonymous said...

This is not a news story. This is the Observer trying desparately to sell papers. Focus on what's relevant - the work of the County Commission. what work was accomplished, who was late and didn't show up for most of the meetings? Who does their homework and who just expounds with no data based relevance?