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County commissioners roll on into 2009

The remodeled Kitsap County commissioners met for a get-acquainted session Tuesday morning to set priorities, choose board assignments and select a new chair.

The meeting, characterized as a “retreat,” actually represented the first third of a five-hour marathon.

After this discussion, the current commissioners convened to discuss budget and land use in a workshop setting, then held their regular business meeting (which was postponed from Monday night due to the weather).

“I have a tremendous amount of respect for this job,” said Charlotte Garrido, who will take office next week as South Kitsap commissioner. “But we need to fulfill all of the possibilities and make sure we’re on the same page.”

Garrido, who is taking over Jan Angel’s seat, will serve with North Kitsap Commissioner Steve Bauer and Central Kitsap Commissioner Josh Brown.

The three have individually lauded their working relationship and immediately demonstrated a comfort level.

They agreed easily on external board assignments, even when Bauer and Brown saddled Garrido with the Law and Justice Executive Board.

Garrido then joked that she was being “bullied“ into the assignment.

County commissioners are required to serve on 32 different boards of differing importance and meeting frequency. Some, like the Kitsap County Consolidated Housing Authority (KCCHA) and the Kitsap Regional Coordinating Council (KRCC), require the service of all three commissioners.

Others are tailored to individual strengths, non-exclusively defined as legislation (Brown), finance (Bauer) and education (Garrido).

Bauer favored a careful approach to board memberships, acknowledging the tremendous drain on commissioners’ schedules.

In many cases they are not adequately prepared and end up making uninformed rulings.

“We only have so much energy,” he said, “and if we’re not careful we can become driven by someone else’s agenda. We have to create the time to set our own priorities. This is a good first step in that process.”

Garrido, who was Angel’s predecessor as well as her successor, was elected as board chair by the other two. This follows the standard rotation of north-south-central, as Bauer and Brown were the previous chairs.

Brown expressed a desire to switch with Garrido for 2009, since he will be running for re-election in 2010.

Even with this qualification Brown and Bauer gave Garrido the choice, and she chose to serve as chair.

Later, Bauer said that while it was an honor to serve as chair, “The duties are mostly ceremonial.”

More important is the ability for commissioners to work together, with a consistent public message.

Tuesday’s meeting set the stage for two future gatherings, which would both qualify as retreats and hopefully occur in January.

The first would cover transportation and transit issues, and discuss the future of the ferries.

The second would cover a broad spectrum of topics, possibly hiring a facilitator to guide the discussion.

Garrido was charged with setting this up and set out to explore various local facilitators who may be interested.

The cost for this service varies, and could range in the thousands of dollars.

However, as Garrido said, “They’re usually worth it.”

All retreats—and for that matter, all meetings—will center on budget issues. The county needs to cut costs and increase revenues, and has been working to do so all throughout 2008.

“This is frustrating,” Brown said of the budget situation. “I’m impressed with our county employees, but we’re in tough times. We’re all making sacrifices, but this doesn’t diminish the fact that we have an incredible staff, who are all open-minded and collaborative.”

One of the most important areas is tourism and the management of lodging tax revenues, which are estimated at around $400,000. Bauer, especially, feels the funds can be better used in order to bring visitors to the county.

“There needs to be a higher level of involvement between us and how the lodging tax is spent,” Bauer said. “We need to get some sense of where this money should be spent.”

In response, Brown suggested the money collected could be used as bond collateral to build a tourist facility, and Garrido said that improved tourism facilities are an essential component of raising the county”s profile.

Transit, and the implementation of foot-ferry service, has become a major issue especially as the state has decreed that counties should sponsor such service.

The commissioners don’t feel Kitsap Transit is the default choice to run the boats, and that other vendors should be considered.

“We need to get everyone in the room to discuss what our transportation needs are for the next 20 years,” Bauer said. “We need to figure out the limitations of the road, the cost of improvements and environmental issues. When we have some sense of what we can develop the solution. Right now a lot of people think of transit as 40-foot buses, when a more realistic view might be to look at the best way to move people.”

Another flash point issue is low-income housing, and the recovery of KCCHA after bad investments exacerbated by market conditions.

The action item here is for the board to contact interim KCCHA Director Deborah Brougton and determine what support the agency needs from the commissioners.

Even as the meeting dealt with weighty issues there were some housekeeping matters, such as when and where the commissioners would be sworn in.

Bauer, who was appointed in 2007 and just won his first elected term, wanted to keep the event low-key and instructed staff to see if a judge was available to perform the ceremony prior to the regular business meeting.

Garrido, on the other hand, said that a swearing-in provided an opportunity for supporters to be involved in the process.

No judge was available, and the swearing-in is now scheduled for 4 p.m. on Dec. 30, New Year’s Eve, in the commissioners’ chambers in Port Orchard. The public is invited.

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