Bauer sails into commissioner job

Twenty-four hours after his confirmation as the new North Kitsap County Commissioner, Stephen Bauer was sitting on the deck of his sailboat docked in a Port Townsend marina talking to the press on his cellphone and reflecting about his life’s latest unexpected turns.

“This will be very different for me,” Bauer said of his new job, which begins Monday. “I’ve spend my whole career staying in the background and making other people look good. But I thought I could make a contribution. I really think this county is pretty special, and I’m impressed by the county government. So when I was asked to take a look at this, I thought I’d give it a try.”

Bauer, 62, will be sworn in at 10 a.m. on July 9, prior to the regular county commissioners’ meeting. He will take part in the meeting but recuse himself from any issues outside of his expertise.

He will spend the rest of the week getting acquainted with staff and issues, but will spend the week of July 16 (while the other commissioners are out of town) on another sailing trip.

Had the commissioner opportunity not arisen, the voyage would have lasted three months.

“I was looking forward to retiring again,” Bauer said. “But this is a very exciting opportunity.”

Bauer’s path to the commissioner’s appointment was relatively smooth. He made a good impression at both candidate forums and earned widespread support right out of the gate.

Said Kitsap Association of Realtors’ Executive Mike Eliason, “At the forums, he was intelligent, articulate and states-man-like. He is the kind of person you would run for congressman or governor.”

He won the first preference round in front of the Democratic precinct officers, but the process hit a snag in late June when South Kitsap Commissioner Jan Angel proposed a series of public meetings.

Angel dropped that request after the idea failed to win support from either Central Kitsap Commissioner Josh Brown or the candidates themselves.

But the process hasn’t ruined the product.

“Each of our commissioners is trying to do the right thing and work in a collaborative environment,” Bauer said. “We might agree, we might disagree, but we will always find a consensus. I will assume that Jan and I can work together until it is proven otherwise. I have an obligation to work collaboratively and assume that she is there for the same reason.”

Bauer said he doesn’t like labeling or assumptions, adding that negative assumptions often become a self-fullfilling prophecy.

Eliason is hopeful Bauer may take a similar role to former Central Kitsap Commissioner Patty Lent, who often provided the swing vote.

“From what I can see, he is a very cooperative-type individual,” Eliason said. “Whenever you have a three-member board, a new person can dramatically change the dynamics of the group. Patty Lent had a personality between Jan and Chris (Endresen), but she was replaced by Josh — who is a bit more assertive. I want to see someone who is cooperative in their dealings with the public and other leaders.”

Bauer has one somewhat unusual trait in an elected official — a reluctance to tell people what to do.

“I don’t like the idea of government deciding things for people,” he said. “A lot of times citizens will turn to government to solve some kind of conflict. It’s better to bring people together and help them decide something for themselves. The whole point is to take people who have different viewpoints and help them to find common solutions on their own.”

Bauer’s resume lists his work as a city manager, budget director and association executive, but does not mention his service as a volunteer mediator.

When Endresen first announced her resignation, Bauer thought he would seek the interim appointment, serving through 2008. But further examination showed that 18 months was not enough time to accomplish anything.

Add to this the Democratic Party’s extracting a promise for that appointee commit to a re-election effort and Bauer expects to be in this job at least through 2112.

Which means he’ll be barely acclima-ted to the new job when he will need to begin planning the 2008 campaign.

“I’m not sure that (Endresen’s) skin was as thick as she would have you believe,” he said. “No one can be completely indifferent to personal attacks. We should be debating the issues in a more civil discussion. It is better to take the high road. I won’t engage in personal attacks, and hope that the people watching this will see when a candidate is under this kind of assault. I think that the public ends up favoring the candidate who is being attacked.”

Over the next few weeks, Bauer plans to meet with all elected officials and department heads to hear their concerns and get acquainted. Beyond that, he will need to do a lot of reading and learning about regulations and procedure.

“I need to find my own areas of interest,” he said. “Chris Endresen was a big supporter of parks, which made a dramatic impact on the county. I am very interested in the Puget Sound Partnership. We’re taking the right steps with the shoreline inventory, but the long-term issue has to do with the overall health of Puget Sound and Hood Canal.”

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