Tag Archives: Washington State Legislature

Puget Partnership sees another leadership change

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 of fluency.”

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 agency’s organizational 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 degrees?

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.

What’s to happen with funding for Puget Sound?

Finding money for Puget Sound restoration is likely to become more difficult next year as legislative power shifts to Republicans in the state Senate and the Legislature wrestles with funding for education.

The power shift follows the defection of two Democratic senators to effectively create a Republican majority in the Senate. See reporter Mike Baker’s story for the Associated Press.

The upcoming budget debate will no doubt revolve around new funding for education. The State Supreme Court has ruled that the Legislature must find more money to fund basic educational needs, as required by the Washington State Constitution. Gov. Chris Gregoire has been talking about proposing a new dedicated tax, but now opponents of tax increases will have a stronger position.

Gov.-elect Jay Inslee ran on a no-new-taxes pledge, so it is likely that all state programs will go back on the chopping block, and nobody can predict what will come out of the turmoil.

Inslee told me a month ago that he could not predict whether Puget Sound programs would get more or less money, but he considered the state’s “paramount duty” to be education. Please review the Kitsap Sun story on Nov. 15.

Meanwhile, Gov. Gregoire told Seattle Times reporter Andrew Garber that her greatest disappointment was not getting more done to restore Puget Sound:

“Because that’s forever. That’s a big forever issue for this state. What I think happened… is we were on our way, and then we just got taken to our knees by the recession. While I kept funding it through other means, it didn’t get the focus I think it needs and deserves because I was so consumed by the recession.”

The governor told me during an interview last month that she still hopes the Legislature can find more money for Puget Sound — including a stable funding source — once the state gets to a stronger financial footing:

“We kept putting money in… I kept pushing for ongoing funding, and we will have to continue to do that for awhile.

“When the recession hit, I have to say that everybody’s attention got drawn away. People wondered, ‘Can I put food on the table? Am I going to lose my job?’ It was so all-consuming that I couldn’t focus on the sound.

“There was a lot of talk about a flush tax. We have never really done the research on it. The last couple of years was no time to be thinking about that. We have demands for education and transportation. But at some point we will have to find the ability to (pay for) more capital projects.

“I think we have held our own and made some improvement, but not the improvement we should have. We have to kick it up. The population continues to grow. We’re going to have to kick it up or we are going to lose ground. I’m not proud of the fact that we are kind of treading water right now.”

Gov. Gregoire also acknowledged to me that federal funding for Puget Sound could become more difficult with the retirement of U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks, who has been a powerful advocate for Puget Sound. On the other hand, she has hope that Norm’s effort through the years and the establishment of the Puget Sound Partnership with provide ongoing credibility for the program. She also believes that Norm’s replacement, Democrat Derek Kilmer, will be a strong advocate for Puget Sound, along with the state’s two U.S. senators.

Other comments from my interview with the governor were used in the first story in what will be an ongoing series about the Puget Sound Partnership’s ecosystem indicators. See Kitsap Sun, Nov. 24.

Speaking of money for Puget Sound, the Salmon Recovery Funding Board has approved $19.2 million statewide for salmon projects next year. I focused my story in yesterday’s Kitsap Sun on estuary projects in Hood Canal, but the full list of projects (PDF 279 kb) can be downloaded from the website of the Recreation and Conservation Office.

It might be interesting to review the history of these grants, year by year. The following are the annual allocations with links to more details:

2013: $19.2 million. News release, Dec. 10, 2012

2012: $30 million. News release, Dec. 12, 2011

2011: $19.8 million. News release, Dec. 20, 2010

2010: $42.8 million. News release, Dec. 15, 2009

2009: $19.8 million. News release, Dec. 12, 2008

2008: $60 million. News release (PDF 360 kb), Dec. 19, 2007

2007: $16.6 million. News release (PDF 262 kb), Dec. 8, 2006

2006: $26.6 million. News release (PDF 262 kb), Jan. 11, 2006

2005: $26.7 million. News release (PDF 188 kb), Dec. 9, 2004 (Gov. Gary Locke)