Waccamaw Economic Opportunity Council plans a retreat at Litchfield; Members mum on cost, agenda

Board members of the Waccamaw Economic Opportunity Council will converge on an oceanfront hotel on Pawleys Island Wednesday for a three-day retreat for which the agenda was being written Friday.

Sharon Boyd, the agency's human resources director, said Thursday afternoon that the retreat had not been confirmed and refused to discuss it further, saying questions would be answered only after a formal Freedom of Information Act request had been submitted.

At the same time, though, the Litchfield Beach and Golf Resort had rooms reserved for WEOC, but would not give any details.

At least some of the board members - all of whom reside in Horry, Georgetown and Williamsburg counties - will spend their nights at the resort as well, and will be possibly reimbursed for the cost by the agency. When board members met at the upscale Charleston Place Hotel for a retreat a year or two ago, former WEOC board member Richard Smith said, board chairman Zacharius Grate told his cohorts that the agency would refund them for costs above what federal expense rules would allow.

The board has held at least one other previous retreat at Hilton Head Island.

WEOC executive assistant Shannon Tyler said Thursday afternoon that the retreat, if one were held, would focus on board training and planning. Friday morning, she said that an agenda for the retreat was being written and that the time it would start Wednesday had not yet been determined.

It also could not be determined how much money the agency has set aside to pay for the retreat, but three-day room packages that do not include meals range from $181.97 for a room with two queen beds, a mini refrigerator, coffee pot and microwave to $309.20 for a two-bedroom, two-bathroom oceanfront condominium, according to Litchfield's website. For its guests, the resort has three golf courses, a water park, health club, bike rentals and trails, tennis courts, a fishing lake, day spa and business center.

The least expensive rooms are also the most distant from the beach, about a 1/4-mile away, the website said.

The Waccamaw EOC distributes about $15 million a year in federal grants for programs such as Head Start, weatherization of homes, and mortgage and rental assistance to thousands of low-income residents of the three counties it serves. A frequent complaint of some potential clients has been that they were told by officials that the agency had run out of money to help them.

The city of Myrtle Beach, whose budget this fiscal year is about $136.8 million, has its annual budget retreat at the Wampee Conference Center in Pinopolis, near Moncks Corner, city spokesman Mark Kruea said. Up to 30 City Council members and staff attended the most recent 2 1/2-day retreat, for which the city paid about $3,800, including food and lodging.

The conference center is owned by Santee Cooper and available for rent to nonprofit groups that promote the social, civic and economic well-being of the company's service area, spokeswoman Mollie Gore said.

There is no difference in charges to governments and other groups, Gore said. Kruea said the city pays $25 for rooms at Wampee, $5 for each breakfast, $10 for lunch and $12 for dinner.

Kruea said the city continues to use Wampee because it is a place where council and staff can isolate themselves from professional and personal concerns at home and fully concentrate on city finances. He said it's likely cheaper than facilities the city might use for a retreat locally.

Horry County Council used to hold its retreats at Wampee, but two years ago moved the annual work session to the Little River Community Center. The facility is county owned and cost nothing for the 1 1/2- to 2-day meeting, county spokeswoman Lisa Bourcier said.

"It's local," she explained about having the retreat in Little River, "it's easier for the council to get to and for more public to attend if they want to."

The county's total budget this year is $327.2 million, including enterprise and special revenue funds.

Bourcier said the county spent $400 to $500 for its most recent retreat, all of it for meals.

WEOC board member Tommy Mitchum of Williamsburg County said Thursday he had not been invited to the agency's retreat.

"I don't even know if they're having it," he said.

Fellow board member Jerry Harper of Pawleys Island answered a query by Grate at a recent board meeting that he would not be staying overnight at the retreat. No one else volunteered that they would not be spending the night.

Mitchum said he will probably stay overnight. Asked why, when he lives relatively close, he said, "I can't answer that question."