Fleming leaves his mark on Kitsap

Kitsap County’s only administrator, Malcolm Fleming, has just five more days on the job. As of Friday, he will leave his post to become chief administrative officer for the city of Bellingham.

And while Fleming’s name may or may not make its way to the side of a future edifice, he has left his mark.

“When I came out here for my initial job interview, I picked up a copy of the Port Orchard Independent to get acquainted with the issues,” he recalled. “The planning director had resigned and employees were threatening to go out on strike. I could tell there were a lot of interesting challenges.”

His goal at the time was pretty ambitious — to make a significant, positive and lasting difference on the lives of county residents. He feels the goal has been accomplished, beginning with the approval of a planning strategy and extending through a steady increase in county government’s efficiency.

Fleming, 46, is perhaps best known for his organizational acumen, the ability to make the governmental trains run on time. “He listens to what people have to say,” said Don Burger, who has worked as Fleming’s assistant for the last two years. “He values this input, and if he decides on a different action, he gives you an explanation. He’s very even-handed, and the way he deals with people is refreshing.”

Fleming makes lists and checks them at least twice, a habit that keeps everything on track. So it’s not out of character that he developed a list of his accomplishments during his tenure. These include:

• Implemented a six-year fiscal planning policy and successfully transitioned from an annual to a two-year budget planning structure. “This forces people to think long-term, and they aren’t in the throes of a planning process every fall,” he said.

• Incorporated a “buy local” program into the county’s purchasing structure.

• Established a program to fund and incorporate public art into capital projects.

• Implemented an annual citizen survey providing the board with an objective analysis of citizens’ concerns and their satisfaction with county services.

“The board hears from the public during its regular meetings, but it’s the same group of people,” he said. “It’s important to get the input from the people who aren’t attending the regular meetings to get a wider perspective.”

When he arrived, Fleming sought to improve communications between the commissioners, the staff and the public. This meant cutting off some direct contact to the board of commissioners and channeling those messages through Fleming.

While some may have resented the access shutdown, a discussion of the matter at a recent retreat gave Fleming high marks. This resulted in one participant commenting, “I didn’t think I’d feel this way, but having a gatekeeper has been a good thing.”

“I never tried to act as a gatekeeper,” Fleming said. “I wanted to facilitate communications, not restrict the flow. But the commissioners all have very busy schedules and it made more sense for people to meet with me and I would pass the information to all of them.”

Fleming wasn’t always objective. If someone voiced on an idea with which he disagreed, he would pass it on with comment. “If I didn’t include my analysis in these cases, I wouldn’t be doing my job,” he said.

While he was more directly involved in the communication traffic between the board and the staff, Fleming feels the open channels between the board and the public are an advantage of the county government structure. The regular citizen’s survey covers a variety of topics, with the results closely examined by the decisionmakers.

Fleming feels the current board of commissioners reflects the public it serves.

“They’re all very strong leaders,” he said. “They work hard, and they listen to each other. They have a different approach to land use. (SK Commissioner Jan) Angel is stronger on property rights, while (NK’s Chris) Endresen is more of an environmentalist. (CK’s Patty) Lent is in between. They are polarized with regard to this issue, but this is representative of the community they represent — which is also polarized on this issue.”

Fleming said the commissioners are all good listeners, but public opinion won’t necessarily change their stance on an issue they’ve already decided.

On issues they are undecided about, the commissioners generally listen to all sides before making passing judgment.

This week, Fleming and his replacement, Parks and Recreation Department Director Cris Gears, 54, will work in tandem in order to educate Gears about the position’s inner workings. Gears said he doesn’t plan to change anything yet and plans to “act like a sponge” around Fleming.

Gears’ position will remain vacant until he and the board determine whether the new arrangement works for everyone.

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