Anyone who knows me understands that meetings aren’t really my thing, which makes this job at least challenging since I have to attend multiple meetings about something or other (or often not much of anything at all), every week.
And I’ll just go ahead and say it. I believe that quite often the only reason someone is holding a meeting is for the sake of holding a meeting.
Which one would think would make those annual day-long retreats the bane of my existence.
But not at all.
Over the years, I’ve discovered that attending those annual retreats can be not only informative, but can help me do my job throughout the year.
And the hours spent at retreats aren’t like hours spent in your average boring meeting.
During retreats, the day is broken up fairly well, and during breaks we journalists can get to know the powers-that-be on a more personal level. They’re chances to find out what they’re really thinking — a rarity in today’s society.
What I discovered during Friday’s retreat at the Klondike Cabins in Elkin was two-fold:
1) The Klondike Cabins are COOL. Period. It’s a shame I’ll never be able to afford to stay there. (The board was able to secure the venue sans cost. At least I was able to hang out there for a day…)
2) I actually sympathize with the members of the Surry County Board of Commissioners.
Now I know what you’re probably thinking: “How can anyone feel sorry for an elected official?” And I agree, mostly. (I’m sick of our government, too.)
Under normal circumstances, the board members are all shined up and wearing their best smile when they are out in public.
But during the retreat, I witnessed firsthand the sense of helplessness experienced by the board — facing having to create a balanced county budget without knowing how much money the county will receive from the state. Imagine having to create a budget without knowing how much money they have.
And I watched and listened as board member after board member lamented the economy, often expressing their frustration at Congress during the impending sequestration battle.
“The economic situation is getting worse,” said long-time board member Jimmy Miller.
“We are truly broke,” said former chair R.F. “Buck Golding. “We’re going to be so broke we’re not going to be able to provide any services if we don’t watch what we’re doing.”
“If this is the new normal we’re going to have to take some measures to do what is most effective and efficient,” said board member Larry Phillips.
But it was Board Chair Eddie Harris that verbalized the frustration in the room most succinctly.
“I hope from this country’s sake, and this county’s sake, that this sequestration in Washington goes in effect on March 1,” he said to the surprise of everyone at the table. “We can’t continue with this Ponzi scheme that’s going on in Washington.”
After watching the board I’ve determined that they’re actually trying to simply keep the county running in the face of The Great Unknown.
And I’m now convinced that the county, through its elected leadership, is in the same boat as all of us: Just trying to do the best we can with what little we have.
So I’m glad I went to the retreat, I guess I’m saying.
But all this praise doesn’t mean I won’t poke ‘em with a stick when necessary…
Keith Strange is a staff reporter with The Mount Airy News. He can be reached at email@example.com or 719-1929.