Kitsap gets its act together at retreat

As they do four times a year, the Kitsap County commissioners held a retreat this week to discuss strategy and determine the county’s short- and long-term direction.

This week’s meeting, however, was unique. There was enough on the agenda to require two days out of the office, and the turnout was impressive, with 28 high-level county employees meeting at Long Lake Community Center to contribute to the discussion.

“Everyone was invited to the last one,” said County Administrator Cris Gears, who ran the sessions. “I’m not sure why they all decided to come this time.”

In addition to all three commissioners, every elected official and department head attended. The only judge present was Superior Court Judge Jay Roof.

“These retreats are valuable because they give us an opportunity to discuss the issues with all the officials,” said North Kitsap Commissioner Chris Endresen. “It’s good to be able for us all to get together and plan.”

Added Central Kitsap Commissioner Patty Lent, “This is only the second time this year that we’ve gotten all the department heads and elected officials together. We can give each other input. And sometimes we need to get out of the office in order to get things accomplished.”

The morning began with two trips around the U-shaped table — once around to get reacquainted by sharing a secret about themselves and the second to talk about their respective departments or priorities.

Improved technology provided the common thread for all departments. At the source, Information Technology Director Bud Harris reported the county has installed a new AS/400 computer.

Superior Court, meanwhile, has installed new scheduling software, and the Sheriff’s Office wants to upgrade its mobile computing hardware.

The Assessor and Treasurer said their own information sharing will allow taxpayers to pay on-line.

Some other highlights, from around the table:

n Sheriff Steve Boyer reported his department is increasing community outreach.

The Citizens on Patrol program now has 30 participants. The weekly Citizen’s Academy, in which the entire department teaches a class about law enforcement, is a success so far.

n County Clerk Dave Peterson, who addressed the group about the new imaging system, said his own outreach efforts, opening passport booths at Kitsap Mall and at the Kitsap County Fair, was well received. “It’s better that we go to the people rather than making them come to us,” he said.

n Prosecuting Attorney Russ Hauge said the proposed addition of a new District Court judge and the recent expansion of the Superior Court bench to eight seats will necessitate some new hires. Even with courthouse internships, Hauge said he will need additional staff by the end of the year.

Hauge also addressed the recent defeat of the law enforcement sales tax levy, saying high gas prices contributed to the loss.

He has no plans to take another shot.

n District Court Administrator Morrie Baker said his office will run more efficiently after the new judge is added, but he reminded the commissioners it was up to them to fund the position.

He also put in a pitch for adding more court facilities throughout the county in order to make it easier for people outside the Port Orchard area to appear.

He cited high gas prices as another reason to strengthen the branch facilities.

There was also a desire to improve the county’s public image among the group, to return to a bygone time when public service was considered more noble.

“The public doesn’t make distinctions between the departments,” Gears said. “If the election doesn’t work, then the entire county takes a hit.”

Gears said the county may have to work hard to prove itself, and it must present a unified front. For example, in order to pass a law enforcement levy in the future others besides the Sheriff and Prosecuting Attorney will need to provide support. One county department, he said, should vocally support the efforts of another.

“There will be a point in time when we will need to go to the people we serve and ask them if they really want the services we’re providing,” Gears said.

Many at Wednesday’s meeting have been around for years. As the age range was early 40s to mid-60s, it was clear some of the faces will change soon enough. Gears said he hoped that as people leave they don’t take the county’s institutional memory along with them.

“We are the leaders of today,” he said. “But we are all of the same general age group. This means that we should plan ahead and address the succession issue. There may be some people in your department who want to do your job, and you should make sure they’re ready.”

The retreat’s second day was scheduled for the Norm Dicks Center in Bremerton. The commissioners were expected to enjoy another technological first and interview two candidates for the assistant director slot at the Department of Community Development.

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