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Commissioners hone management style

The Kitsap County commissioners have resolved to strike a balance between delegation and micromanagement, and to improve communications channels between the board and its staff.

The topic was addressed Wednesday during an all-day retreat held at the Public Works Annex in Bremerton.

A year ago the county hired a pair of consultants to present theories about interaction and communications flow. This year the commissioners felt capable of addressing the matter themselves.

Outgoing county administrator Malcolm Fleming presented a list of suggestions he said would improve government operations and staff interaction. Among these:

n Don’t immediately jump into problem-solving mode. Many times a staff member is advising them of a situation out of a need to keep them informed and they can fix the problem themselves.

n Structure conversations in an organized fashion. Make the point first and then provide the reasoning behind the point. Make sure the staff member understands expectations.

n Engage in “active listening” and don’t interrupt other people. “Sometimes you’re having three different conversations and don’t appear to be listening,” Fleming said.

n Use department directors as subject matter experts to make sure they have all the information about a particular topic.

n Focus on the larger issues and don’t spend so much time on minutiae like personnel matters. “Many times we’ve spent a lot of time on $1,500 matters and glossed over the more important ones,” Fleming said.

“Ask yourself if you’re acting as a leader or doing something the administration or staff should handle. If this is the case, then delegate. And hold them responsible for the results. You should not be involved in every personnel issue.”

Fleming said the commissioners can save time during the budget process by giving staff specific guidelines and parameters while not involving themselves in each line item at the beginning stages.

“All the time spent in budget meetings may not be the best use of your time,” he said.

The commissioners listened carefully to Fleming’s suggestions, and for the most part did not actively dispute his conclusions.

“One of the reasons I know as much as I do is my participation in the budget,” North Kitsap Commissioner Chris Endresen said. “We don’t need to go over every item but we need to have a working knowledge of the budget and what’s going on.”

She did strongly agree with one of Fleming’s suggestions.

“I would appreciate not spending any time with personnel issues. I don’t want to hear about them ever again.”

Endresen acknowledged that all three commissioners don’t have to attend every study session; one can opt out for efficiency’s sake.

Some suggestions came from other staff, such as administrative services director Ben Holland’s idea for commissioners to make themselves directly available to staff for one full day each week.

He also mentioned a need to apprise others of decisions as they are made.

“No matter how hard you try there are times when you have to say no to something,” he said. “A lot of times when I say no they will take it one step higher. But you should know that I made my decision, and why.”

The board also took a step toward developing clearer communication through the elimination of cumbersome and confusing acronyms. During the meeting, any speaker using an acronym instead of the full name had to put $1 into a can.

At the end of the day the cash — at least $20 — was to go to an undesignated charity.

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