Friday, January 18, 2013

Whither Puget Sound Partnership, Whither Puget Sound?

Col. Tony Wright
Puget Sound Partnership Executive Director Tony Wright took the helm of the agency charged with restoring the Sound to health late last July and yesterday sent a letter to us announcing his return to the private sector.

Wright wrote: “With the new year and a new governor come other changes here at the Puget Sound Partnership. Last summer when I took a leave of absence from my company, Normandeau Associates, to lead the Partnership into a season of action, I made a commitment that I would return. That time is near....During my time here, I have pushed to reorganize the Partnership for action and implementation with the goal of tangible progress for Puget Sound recovery.”

Al Bergstein in his Olympic Peninsula Environmental News blog yesterday wrote: “This is quite shocking news. Mr. Wright only took the helm of the Partnership last summer, after the resignation of Gerry O”Keefe, who himself had not been in the ED role for very long. In meeting with members of the Marine Resource Committee members at their annual conference last winter, Mr. Wright was all a bundle of fire, an excellent motivational speaker. He left the distinct taste that this was a man who was going to get things done. About the only thing he appears to have done, is reorganized the Partnership."

Wright is a retired Army Corps of Engineers colonel who took the directorship with the understanding that he’d be at Partnership for the duration of Governor Christine Gregoire’s term in office. But he was a good, top-level choice to lead the often foundering agency.

“He has a reputation as a straight shooter who's not out to please everybody. Before he got this job, he told the Partnership it needed more courage if it wants to save Puget Sound. He says he's not afraid to ‘embrace the porcupine,’" reported KUOW’s John Ryan in late July.  Said Wright: "My previous job, I frequently tried to make everyone kind of equally unhappy. You can't solve difficult problems from a distance. You have to get in there, become part of the solution and sometimes you get stuck with quills in the process."

Martha Kongsgaard, chair of the Puget Sound Partnership Leadership Council, told Craig Welch of The Seattle Times when Wright took on leading the Partnership that the governor hired Wright because she wanted the agency to have a much-higher profile.

"I think the governor wanted to energize us," Kongsgaard said. "She wanted to put some new focus and oomph in the partnership and have it be a little, maybe, nosier, so that her legacy has a better chance of surviving through many governors.

"Tony's a well-known guy who has come in his fatigues and said some pretty strong things about what it's going to take to recover the Sound," she said.

"He's got the street cred of being a serious Army Corps fellow who stuck his neck out a lot in this region and was listened to. He can go toe to toe with anyone. He's a doer."

Today, Martha Kongsgaard wrote:

“We are all very sorry that Col. Wright isn't able to remain in the crucial position of Executive Director of the Puget Sound Partnership because, as was said,  his tenure brought heft and passion and vision to this enormous effort.  What was not said and may not be widely known is that  he came out of the private sector at the request of Governor Gregoire whom he greatly admires and promised to stay with her through her term.

“On the other end of that pledge, he promised his business partner, a war comrade, that he would be back at his firm by winter, and here we are.  He has helped  reenergize the effort  with great skill and vitality.  Puget Sound recovery has long been his passion.  What he perhaps did not count on is that the job of ED would become a formidable vehicle for the pursuit of same.  And so here we are in an imperfect place - he is very torn, but he has an obligation, is loyal, and will be  true to his word.  It is his intent to remain into Gov. Inslee's term long enough to enable a smooth transition, especially during the legislative session.

“The job of ED at the Partnership is an enormously important one and of course the churn of ED traffic is at best distracting to the public and  the remarkable staff.  But make no mistake, there is more to the PSP than the Director.  The 40+ staff members continue to carry out the serious central  core work of our mission with great technical savvy and passionate inspiration and will continue to do so regardless of Gubernatorial transitions or appointments.  And as we all recognize, this work does not have an end date - it will require all of us, out generations, with many more ED's, to work vigilantly together.”

OK, maybe this is just part of the process but there’s too much at stake without the kind of leadership Tony Wright was capable of providing. Martha asks that we all help Governor Inslee fill this important position. There’s also the position of director of the state Department of Ecology that Governor Inslee needs to fill.

Where ARE we heading and who is going to lead us there? As Craig Welch notes in his July article on Tony Wright, the leadership of Puget Sound Partnership is especially critical at this time: “The agency's two biggest champions, Gov. Chris Gregoire and U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Bremerton — who as former chair of the House Appropriations Committee steered millions of dollars toward Puget Sound work — are both leaving office this year. Details about the agency's work often appear complicated and murky to the public.”

Who leads the Partnership and Ecology becomes even more critical given the GOP-control of the state Senate this session. I’m sure there are good staff at the Partnership although I can’t tell how well they have been reorganized by Tony Wright “for action and implementation with the goal of tangible progress for Puget Sound recovery” by looking at the staff roster.

Somebody with “street cred” willing to “embrace the porcupine” and can “go toe to toe with anyone” needs to lead and take action to restore the Sound. Without that, we lose Puget Sound.

--Mike Sato

Update: The State of Washington Joint Legislative Audit & Review Committee (JLARC) briefing report on PSP’S (the Puget Sound Partnership) 2012 Action Agenda Update finds that “Revised Approach Continues to Lack Key Accountability Tools Envisioned in Statute” January 23, 2013

Specifically in three areas:

  1. The Action Agenda Does Not Link Actions to the Amount of Progress They Will Make Towards the Long-Term Restoration Goals Established by the Legislature
  2. Actions are Not Prioritized to Meet Long-Term Restoration Goals
  3. Monitoring Data Is Not Available to Facilitate Adaptive Management

1 comment:

  1. Well Mike - regarding the roster. With 17 of the 54 people on it having part or all of their job being to manage some of the other people, there is a lot less of them to implement and take action than you might like. And those being managed are probably managed a LOT because each manager only has 1 or 2 or 3 to manage!

    Until there is a whole lot better explanation than Ms. Kongsgaard's, I will rather suspect that Mr. Wright, after a good 8 months peek under the covers, just threw up his hands in despair and quit.