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Kitsap commissioners meet to retreat
The Kitsap County commissioners were scheduled to spend all day Friday in an off-site meeting designed to examine their work methods and personality styles, with the expected result of learning how to better work toward common goals.
“I think it is important that we know each other’s priorities and listen to each other,” said South Kitsap Commissioner Charlotte Garrido. “These sessions help us to accomplish this.”
Garrido, who held the same position 10 years ago, provided the impetus for the exercise. In 1997, when she was about a year into her first term, she felt the board was working below its potential.
While she was philosophically aligned with fellow commissioners Phil Best and Chris Endresen, they were not communicating well. So she recruited consultants Richard and Anna Linzer to conduct a team building exercise, and the board managed to learn communication skills that helped them to govern.
“We came away with a more genuine understanding about how we could work together,” Garrido said. “At the time, it was very helpful. We came away understanding how the things we did could tick other people off, and what we could do to get where we needed to be.”
This time, Garrido didn’t wait a year to take action.
Even before she was sworn in last month, she suggested that the board take the time to study its work style before getting down to the business of governing.
So she again contacted the Linzers, who hosted the session in their home near Quilcine.
North Kitsap Commissioner Steve Bauer and Central Commissioner Josh Brown readily agreed a team-building session was appropriate and that it would be worth the time and expense as an investment in the future.
The cost of the session was undetermined even as it proceeded, but was estimated to range between $2,000 and $3,000. Richard Linzer said the session costs are often undetermined since they depend on billable hours.
Garrido, who is strongly supporting a “buy local” campaign, was under the impression the Linzers were from Indianola, as they had been during their last contact.
She decided to proceed with them, even if they no longer live in Kitsap.
“We do all of our shopping in Silverdale,” Anna Linzer said when the topic came up at a dinner session Thursday night at Molly Ward Gardens in Poulsbo, “so the sales tax money comes back to you.”
“Our sessions are related to goals of the participants and how they can work together,” Richard Linzer said. “These are not convivial sessions. The participants work very hard. They need to answer a series of demanding questions.”
According to Administrative Assistant Carolyn Siems the sessions were properly advertised in accordance with public meeting law. This means that members of the press and public were invited, even if access wasn’t as easy as it would be in chambers or at a hotel.
Richard Linzer said elected officials often address members of the public directly if they are present during a team building session, but added that public presence does not in and of itself determine the success or failure of a session.
As for the recent opinion from the Washington Attorney General that governing boards can meet in private if no action is taken, Siems said the commissioners would not have acted any differently.
“They want to keep their meetings and their actions open,” she said.
Prior to Thursday’s dinner the commissioners were all given a questionnaire meant to determine their thinking styles by creating a hierarchy of certain words.
Bauer and Garrido revealed their thinking styles as between “abstract random” and “abstract sequential.”
Brown, who had taken the test, did not bring the outcome to the dinner and said he did not remember the results.
“Every board of three is inherently unstable,” Richard Linzer said. “Two of them form alliances with each other. Any governing body with three members has to learn how to work together. And it is also a unique situation, since you do not select the other members of the board.”
Richard Linzer warned the commissioners that people act differently when they are asking for money. “They are not responding to you but to the dollar sign on your forehead,” he said, “so they may not give you authentic information.”
Since a large percentage of the commissioners’ time is spent determining budgets they need to be aware of this tendency.
Richard Linzer said it was important that the board speaks with a single voice, that any perceived disagreements can send mixed signals to the staff. For this reason, once the board makes a decision it needs to provide a united front.
“We need to understand that every action we take has an impact on the other members of the board,” Bauer said. “We may have the impulse to grandstand about a certain issue and show another member in a bad light, but we have to keep in mind that any such action can negatively impact their entire future, and their career.”