All The News That Didn’t Fit

Brynn Grimley writes:

How to fit the details of an eight-hour board work session into an 18-inch article is, to say the least, a struggle.

Realistically it isn’t possible to get into the in-depth conversations, the different discussions that evolve (or at times devolve) into an end result. In the end, a reporter is left with summarizing, often finding highlights of the session and using those to describe the day.

And more often than not, after sitting through the daylong session, you leave knowing your day — unlike everyone else in the room — is far from over. Deadline looms and the need to get the story written for the web and the next day’s paper is pressing.

The end result? Crunching eight hours of information into two hours of writing.

That was my Tuesday. Uff-Da.

I attended the Housing Kitsap (formerly Kitsap County Consolidated Housing Authority) all day retreat. (Retreat is such a misnomer because it wasn’t like the board was getting manis and pedis or massages, they were planning for the future).

It’s clear the day’s session — which at times felt more like a group therapy session than anything else — was needed. The agency had Professional Options provide consultation for the day. President and CEO of the firm, Dona Keating, was the facilitator.

Keating laid out an ambitious agenda with the purpose of the day’s meeting stated at the top:

To strengthen board involvement and accountability; refine mission, strategy and vision for KCCHA; identify and achieve additional revenue stream; implement and/or improve operational efficiency.

It’s no secret that the housing authority faced the possibility of dissolution after it became clear it couldn’t pay loans tied to the revitalization efforts of downtown Bremerton. It’s also no secret that the agency got away from its mission for a while.

But what seems to be regularly overlooked by many of the commentators on our stories about the authority is the work that has gone on over the past year to keep the agency afloat. When people criticize the agency, they may not always think about the impact that has on the staff who have worked hard to return the agency to its mission and who have found ways to save on expenditures so that the clients remain a priority.

Regardless of where you stand on whether the county made the right decision when it bailed out the agency with a loan to the tune of $40.5 million, the staff, current administration and housing board in place now are not the same people that lead the agency astray of its mission.

Some say bankrupt the agency and start over. But what does that mean for the people living in the agency’s public housing units? Where do they go if the agency that distributes the federal HUD subsidies goes away? This is what housing authority staff think about.

It’d be a lie to say staff doesn’t get discouraged by disparaging comments left on stories.

As Jennifer Laslovich, director of asset management, explained Tuseday during the session: she believes in the mission of housing low-income families and making affordable housing available to Kitsap area residents. And just like the rest of the staff that has stayed with the authority, she chose to stay with the organization through this difficult time to see the agency succeed.

After hearing from management that agency staff was fearful of the housing authority board, the board determined a priority going forward would be to create unity within the organization. That includes unity between board members, unity between staff, and unity between the board and staff. With that unity will also come trust, which is currently lacking within the organization and among board members.

Housing commissioners also talked about changing the makeup of who sits on the board, however they didn’t get into specifics of how it might change. They talked about the need to keep the housing authority’s best interest at the forefront when making decisions, and the need to be unified after those decisions are made — they shouldn’t go back to their respective elected offices and do something that could undermine the decision made by the housing board.

The last two hours of the retreat centered around the creation of a strategic plan. Executive director Tony Caldwell told the board he would like to see the plan be a hybrid between a goals-based plan and an issues-based plan.

This means the board should ask themselves: five years down the road, where do you as housing commissioners see the agency? They should also identify the issues facing the authority over the next one to three years and create an action plan for solving those issues.

Cognizant of the need to stay on top of the agency’s finances, the board determined financial viability should be the first priority of the plan. The next priority needs to be strengthening the agency’s core mission.

The board wasn’t equipped to get into the nitty-gritty details of what that plan would look like beyond setting the priorities, but Keating was adamant that they get the foundation in place now. The plan should be viewed as a working document that is formed with the addition of staff recommendations and board vetting in the coming months.

The board meets again Sept. 7, and it will be interesting to see the dynamics following Tuesday’s meeting.

2 thoughts on “All The News That Didn’t Fit

  1. Here’s what County Commissioner Steve Bauer wrote about the retreat in an email to Housing Kitsap staff, the board members and to me. I wanted to include the email with this post, but didn’t want to add it until I got his permission to share it with everyone. He said it was OK, so here it is:

    “In reading the Sun article about the results tonight, it is clear that I wasn’t very coherent in expressing my thoughts to Brynn (no surprise at the end of a very long day). What I thought I was saying is that the staff has done a stellar job in bringing the agency to the point that we are beyond emergency triage and can look to the future. I tried to cite specifically the work of Judy and Jennifer in not only managing day to day services but in also taking on the thankless and seemingly endless task of having to repair multiple systems and properties that had been ignored over many years. I think that “double duty” is showing results in the reports that were made today and that we have been receiving in recent months. I am also impressed with the schedule for installing the new financial software – that is a very ambitious schedule. When that software – and the other investments we all agreed on last year – are made, I believe that it will materially enhance productivity of staff and allow all of us the luxury of having coherent management information to use in planning for the future. I agree that the Board did a lot of heavy lifting under difficult circumstances last year. But we would not be where we are today without the perseverence and dedication of our managers and staff who have worked to fix these years of neglect. The Board, the public and our clients all owe you a great debt of gratitude.”

    — Brynn

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