I have to admit that I was surprised when Tony Wright, executive
director of the Puget Sound Partnership,
announced last week that he would soon be leaving to return to
private consulting. But I suppose I have only myself to blame.
I went back and looked at former
Gov. Chris Gregoire’s announcement (PDF 127 kb) of Tony’s
appointment back in July. She clearly stated: “I thank Normandeau
Associates for graciously loaning Tony, and appreciate Tony’s
willingness to serve in this role.”
I don’t know why, but I never asked how long he was committed to
staying, and nobody else brought up the issue.
I became distracted by more than a few people who talked about
Tony’s prospects for staying in the post regardless of the
governor’s election. He was seen as a person who could fit into a
Republican administration if Rob McKenna were elected, and Jay
Inslee had no immediate plans to shake up the agency. (Kitsap
Sun, Nov. 15, 2012)
Behind the scenes, Martha Kongsgaard, chairwoman of the
partnership’s Leadership Council, was pushing for Tony to stay on,
as she confirmed to me last week as I prepared to write the story
about Tony Wright’s departure. (Kitsap
Sun, Jan. 18, 2013)
Neither Wright nor the governor emphasized the short-term nature
of the job “which would make me a lame duck the day I started,”
Tony explained to me.
So we now come to the understanding that another director of the
partnership must be hired. Martha says the new hire must possess
many of the qualities that Tony Wright brought to the job. Here’s
how she put it:
“Tony was the right guy at the right time. He got people’s
attention, and in some ways he articulates how to get the work
done. Tony can talk to anyone, from the oil industry to the
environmental community. The next leader has to have that same kind
The first director of the partnership, David Dicks, put the
fledgling agency on the map. He reached out to communities across
the state and got everyone involved. He worked with the
Legislature. But he was not as focused on the inner workings of the
partnership, and some mandated deadlines were missed. Some
financial accounting mistakes were made.
The second director, Gerry O’Keefe, focused intently on getting
the staff up to speed on the work products demanded of the agency,
and they were numerous — from ecosystem indicators to a Science
Update to a new Action Agenda.
Tony helped complete work on the Action Agenda and reorganized
the staff while reaching outside the agency to plan a strategy for
getting the work done at the federal, state and local levels. The
chart (PDF 680 kb) shows clearer lines of authority, with much
of the staff focused on implementing the various plans.
Still, the partnership has not fully developed the
administrative structure envisioned by the Legislature, according
to a new report by staff of the Joint Legislative Audit and Review
Committee. What is needed is a clear understanding of what a
healthy Puget Sound would look like, along with measurable goals to
achieve that condition and an accounting of how various actions can
contribute to those goals. See
today’s Kitsap Sun or review the
draft JLARC report for yourself.
The Legislative mandate sounds simple enough, but the job
becomes exceedingly complex as one delves into it. First, there’s
the question of what a health Puget Sound would look like.
Joe Gaydos of the SeaDoc Society, who chaired the Puget Sound
Science Panel last year, once compared a healthy ecosystem to a
healthy person. Do you want the person to be healthy enough to walk
around and hopefully avoid a heart attack, or do you want him to be
prepared to run a marathon?
The Puget Sound ecosystem will never be as vigorous and dynamic
as it was in its “youth” before development, and perhaps avoiding
collapse is the first step on the way to a healthy ecosystem. This
issue deserves a wider discussion among the people who live here.
What are our “alternative futures” for Puget Sound? Can we discuss
what it will take to change the present course to varying
We also need a greater understanding about the connections
between land and water at various depths, the behavioral
relationships among species, the energy pathways in the food web
and much more. Scientists are beginning to come to grips with these
issues, but the science must make its way into policy decisions and
become accessible to you and me.
The “links” between actions and progress toward a healthy
ecosystem could be better understood, and researchers need to
measure the success of restoration projects so that funding
agencies can replicate what is working.
Puget Sound Partnership is making progress. If the legislative
mandate does not recognize the complexity of the task, maybe it is
time to refine our expectations written into law. Maybe it is time
to have a broad discussion about what the partnership has
accomplished and what is yet to be done.
It is equally important to remember, however, that the
partnership is a coordinating agency. The work itself gets done by
numerous government agencies and by many other groups — including
what people do in their own backyards.
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