Commissioners’ defend retreat's mission, cost
January 29, 2009 · Updated 1:12 PM
The Kitsap County commissioners held an off-site meeting last week 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.”
The session was conducted in two parts — dinner at Molly Ward Gardens on Thursday night and an all-day meeting at the home of facilitators Richard and Anna Linzer near Quilcine.
North Kitsap Commissioner Steve Bauer said the meeting brought a new degree of clarity to the developing relationship between the new commissioners. Garrido, who was elected in November, joins Bauer and Central Commissioner Josh Brown, who have served on the board for 19 months and two years respectively.
Bauer said the sessions set out plans for better interactions with the county staff, more open communication with local municipalities and co-ordination between all of the boards on which the commissioners serve.
While conceding these steps are obvious ones, he noted, “We have never actually sat down to determine exactly how this needs to be done.”
After final plans for the retreat were announced last week, public reaction centered around the process rather than the product. That it was held in Quilcine was cited as a symbolic slap at Kitsap, and that there should have been someplace in Kitsap that would fit the bill.
The $2,900 out-of-pocket cost for the retreat was also criticized by those who felt it contradicted the county’s message to cut spending.
This argument was countered by the notion that spending $3,000 today will help to manage the $300 million in the yearly budget.
“There are a number of places you could have done this in Kitsap County,” said Vivian Henderson of Port Orchard during Monday night’s public comment period at the commissioners’ regular business meeting. “If you thought you would be disturbed by your phone or Blackberry, then you should have left it in the car.
“And I can’t believe that you hired a consultant before knowing exactly how much it was going to cost,” she said. “This isn’t 1997. People aren’t as tolerant of that fuzzy-wuzzy stuff.”
After the session, Bauer lauded its effectiveness but admitted, “We didn’t manage it as well as we could have.”
The final cost was not announced until Wednesday, but fell within estimates. Richard Linzer said the uncertainty resulted from the ability to determine billable hours in advance.
Some consultants, for instance, bill clients for time spent talking to the press (which Linzer said he does not).
Garrido, who held the same position 10 years ago, provided the impetus for the exercise. She remembered a time when the board was working below its potential and a session with the Linzers set a more constructive course.
She hoped to repeat this success with the new session.
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. “So the sales tax money comes back to you.”
Linzer did bill certain costs in hosting the event, such as lunch, but said the total was less than it would be in order to rent a conference room in a hotel.
County facilities were not as appropriate, he said, because of the commissioners’ inability to isolate themselves from day to day operations.
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 revealed later that he had a “concrete sequential” thinking style.
“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.
Henderson, in her public comments, said that she didn’t think the board needed to speak with a single voice and that a diversity of opinion was necessary in order to have a public discussion.
The session’s effect was immediate, with the commissioners promising elected officials on Monday to be more inclusive.
“We want you all to be more a part of the budget discussion this year,” Bauer said.