Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Staff Salary Adjustments

Since there has been some commentary (and disbelief) expressed about staff salaries and past salary adjustments, we thought we would review the available data. We first posted about staff salary adjustments in July 2012. We promised to post more, but events overtook us and we never did. Given the recent commentary and controversy, we felt it was time to complete the thought we had back in July 2012. Here are the facts and documentation. You decide.

First, we received the following tip from a source within the County itself.
On January 10, 2012, the Council passed, by Resolution 5-2012, staffing levels and pay and benefit schedules for 2012.  This Resolution adopts the new salary schedules - without showing what it represents for individual positions.  Therefore, I’d like to add some perspective prior to these adjustments taking affect with the August payroll. 
The reclassification/salary study, required under the bargaining agreement, was completed under Pamela Morias’ leadership.  The results provided raises ranging from over $10,000 to nearly $16,000 each for five unrepresented people – Ms. Morais, her significant other, two other department heads, and two managers – while over 40 other staff-members show reductions by as much as $8,655.  This is public information, yet the public has not been made aware of it.   It is also unclear whether the Council was ever aware of it, as this was never presented in open session.  On September 20, 2011, there was a closed session held pursuant to RCW 42.30.140(4)(b) to discuss matters pertaining to collective bargaining.  If this document was presented then, the information pertaining to unrepresented employees should have been presented in public.  Staff was given an opportunity to appeal their reclassification by the end of November, after the proposed pay grade placement chart was distributed at an all staff meeting in October.  The document distributed at the all-staff meeting revealed salary adjustments to individual positions.   At the point the document was distributed staff-wide, it became a “public” document, yet was protected as a draft bargaining document by Ms. Morais, who withheld it from a media records request in January of 2012. 
It was reported in the Journal that the County will be cutting 14 positions to close the shortfall of $800,000 for next year if the tax increase does not pass and by 7 positions and $400,000 if it does pass.  This article also states that over the past 4 years, the County has gone through five rounds of budget cuts, 32 FTEs have been eliminated, and employees across the board have been required to take furloughs.  By implementing the reclassification and its resulting salaries, this nets an overall increase in wages in the neighborhood of $400,000, with approximately $175,000 on the side of unrepresented staff (including the hefty raises mentioned earlier – for department heads already at the high end of the scale).  The totals were arrived at by taking the positions listed on the proposed paygrade and placement chart, matching them as best as possible with employees, and using the median current wage against the median proposed wage.  In full disclosure, the worksheet used is not complete, as there were more positions listed than could be matched with employees, and some may be placed incorrectly.
It is understood that the union employees are entitled to this schedule, but this is not the case for unrepresented staff.  The study itself may be flawed in the comparator data or its interpretation, especially in light of the shrinking staffing levels, leaving managers with fewer employees and fewer projects to manage.  Considering the economy, reduction in staff, and the out-migration this county is experiencing, the time is not right for such increases.  Reconsidering the management salary increases and preserving at least one position prior to implementation and the election could prove to have a positive caste, demonstrating good will by San Juan County officials to its electorate. 
And below is a link to a folder containing supporting documentation related to 2012 salary adjustments. According to the data, Pamela Morais, the County HR Head who commissioned and supervised a 2011 salary study, received an increase that lifted her own annual salary from $76,455 to $87,797. Her partner, John Manning, received an increase that lifted his annual salary from $84,822 to $95,040.

Were either of them (or any of the others who received increases) underpaid?

Regarding the attached files, pay particular attention to the spreadsheet, which summarizes pay adjustments by person. The powerpoint presentation explains the purported justification for the adjustments.

(Click the folder below to open. Click the files to preview or download.  If you cannot view Flash content, click on this link.)

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Retreat From Scrutiny

The online version of the Merriam Webster dictionary defines a retreat as:
An act or process of withdrawing, especially from what is difficult, dangerous, or disagreeable.
The new Council held a retreat this past week at a local hotel. What happens at a County retreat? The practical effect of a Council retreat is to be out of view of the video recorder in the Council Chamber, which makes it much more difficult for the public to get an idea of the proceedings. Previous Councils have even tried to restrict press access.

Based on reports, here's a brief summary of what transpired at the retreat:
  • Bob Jean feels the County needs to do a better job of communicating to the public what a great job County staff are doing. The County, he feels, needs to communicate the wonderful "professionalism" of staff.
  • The County intends to hire a Communications Manager by August to assist with said "good communication."  There was a lot of talk about the County being "behind the 8-ball" on communications.
  • Shireene Hale is everywhere. She is the lead on the transportation element, the rural element, and the economic development element of the Comprehensive Plan ... and probably anything else she wants to work on.
  • Stan Matthews received praise from Milene Henley and Bob Jean over the work he is doing as IT Manager. Despite the dust up over Pictometry, they said that he has saved the County a lot of money on IT.
  • Councilman Hughes feels there is a need for a coordinating body for economic development. The Visitors Bureau is developing a "Tourism Master Plan" that will harmonize with the National Monument Plan (Wait, wasn't the purpose of the National Monument "protection" not tourism?). There was talk that the County needs to direct economic development planning and involve the Agricultural Resources Committee (ARC), the Economic Development Council (EDC) and others. 
  • Jarman asked a lot of questions about tracking contracts and change orders, and after much questioning it was revealed that a County information system called EDEN can generate weekly reports to the Council, and thus become part of the public record to monitor all ongoing contracted activities and change orders. In a discussion related to Pictometry, it was stated that the County Manager/Administrator's signing authorization would be limited to $100k without Council approval.
  • Jarman wants a framed copy of the County Vision Preamble (part of the Comprehensive Plan) in every Department Head's office: WE THE PEOPLE of San Juan County recognize that these rural islands are an extraordinary treasure of natural beauty and abundance, and that independence, privacy and personal freedom are values prized by islanders. Being a diverse people bound together by these shared values, we declare our commitment to work towards this vision of the San Juan Islands in 2020 A.D.
  • Jarman pushed for monthly reporting by Department Heads to the Council. He also pushed for the Council to sign off on all hires by Department Heads and more involvement related to terminations and staff evaluations.
  • There was a discussion with Frank Mulcahy of Public Works about the possibility of developing a reporting dashboard to keep the Council better informed.
  • Jean said the Community Conversations Draft Report will be available in a few weeks. Rumors are that some Council members and staff feel the Community Conversations were "transformational" and will serve as a good guide for County policy and goal setting for the budget process.
  • At the end, John Manning of the Health Department delivered the "we're all in this together" message by saying, "Well, basically the best advice I can give incoming Council members is to remember, we're all in this together. And, if you're openly critical of staff in public session, remember, you're only hurting yourself."
I don't know what the Council hopes to achieve at retreats, but it is apparent that many County staff see it as a golden opportunity to co-opt Council members to their way of thinking. Staff lay out their plans about communication, professionalism, and coordination (i.e.,  not blind-siding one another) in an effort to convince Council members that they have joined a club with a strict code of behavior that they dare not violate. It's "Management by Shiny Object." If some newly elected official starts to focus on something real, staff are ready to shift the topic to professionalism, civility, coordination, or some other item selected from the time-tested shiny-object menu of distractions.  Above all, staff try to make the Council believe that they can save -- only by working closely in concert with highly-professional County staff -- this County from its own citizens. For example, "they" need to provide us with an economy planned by Shireene Hale, the Tourist Board, and various County committees. It's vital, they tell us, despite the fact that many of these same people have done everything they can to kill our economy with pointless regulation.

This year, Jarman made efforts to get staff to listen to Council members rather than the other way around, but for the most part, this year's retreat was not much different from those in previous years. We heard many of the usual systemic themes that we've heard from staff before. As a friend of mine aptly puts it, our senior County staffers have "penis envy" of King County's programs, so despite the fact that we are country bumpkins with virtually no economic activity for a tax base, our County staff want programs (not to mention pay and benefits) à la  King County ... and they don't want to be criticized for wanting it either.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Bridges Versus Green Jobs

According to news reports,
Washington state was given a C in the American Society of Civil Engineers' 2013 infrastructure report card and a C- when it came to the state's bridges. The group said more than a quarter of Washington's 7,840 bridges are considered structurally deficient or functionally obsolete.
Instead of spending money on bridges, our Congressional delegation brought home the bacon for programs like the scandal-ridden Puget Sound Partnership (PSP).
Puget Sound Partnership, with a two-year $15 million budget, has helped direct some $400 million in state and federal funds spent by "partner agencies" the past two years. Its $15 million budget includes $4 million in outside contracts for education, monitoring and other efforts.                           -- 2011 article in the Kitsap Sun

I-5 Bridge Over Skagit River Collapse

In an atypical post for us, we're passing along some shocking local news ... of which there are only sketchy details at the moment.  As the headline says, the I-5 bridge over the Skagit River has collapsed, and there are reportedly cars in the water. A search and rescue operation is underway.

Local news outlets are not yet covering the story, but details will soon emerge. This is the bridge that many of us travel on a regular basis ... the one next to Home Depot on Route 5.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Shireene Hale's Pattern Of Behavior

Yesterday, the Council selected Michael Thomas as the new County Manager.  Thomas is from King County and has a planning background. Mr. Thomas, you have your work cut out for you because our Planning Department functions like a rogue government within a government, with a functional head who openly despises public participation and dissent.

In the email below (from a year ago), Hale discusses her reaction to a CAO public meeting that was, from our perspective, one of the greatest meetings from a public participation standpoint. It was one of the worst from the standpoint of the reaction of public officials.

Once again, Shireene Hale thinks dissent is violence. Someone who regularly cannot tell the difference between dissent and violence may not be stable enough to deal with the public, and perhaps we should be concerned about her reactionary behavior or the irrational steps she might take.

Who is the threat here? It makes me wonder whether Hale will start coming to meetings armed and dangerous. In more ways than one, we need protection from Hale.

From: Shireene Hale []
Sent: Tuesday, April 10, 2012 11:54 AM
To: Colin Maycock; Jon Cain; Lovel Pratt; Patty Miller; Pete Rose; Randall Gaylord; Rene Beliveau; Richard Fralick; Shireene Hale
Subject: Agenda for Monday CAO Implementation Team meeting?

Good morning,

What do you all have for agenda items for the Monday CAO/SMP Implementation team meeting? Colin will not be attending as he will be in Costa Rica.

At this point I have two items:

*         Conduct of public meetings on CAO and SMP.
*         Alternatives for getting the wetland and fish and wildlife regulations through the approval process.

Conduct of Public Meetings

On the conduct of public meetings, I would like to discuss options for ensuring that our citizens, staff, consultants, Council and Planning Commissioners do not feel threatened or intimidated, and to ensure that comments are focused on the issues, and not on blaming or attacking individuals. Problem meetings in the past few months include the last three Planning Commission meetings (particularly the March 6 meeting), the San Juan town hall meetings, and the Orcas SMP meeting.

For those that have not heard, we are aware of two separate instances of people discussing the use of guns. One was a warning from someone that works at the Orcas fire station, the other was a conversation overhead on the ferry. Chances are nothing will happen, but given the way John Evans and others are stirring up fear, hatred and hostility, and given some of the testimony we heard on March 6, I don't think the possibility of violence should be dismissed. 

In addition, prior to the March 16 Planning Commission meeting, Gordy Peterson suggested to Janice  that she should consider calling in sick rather than attend the meeting, because "it was going to be ugly". This may constitute intimidation of a public servant under RCW 9A.76.180 and 9A.04.110. Given everything that is going on, it was intimidating to those of us charged with running the meeting. 

Alternatives to help with the public meetings include:

*         A clear statement from our leaders (Patty and/or the full Council ?) assuring people that we will get through this and that their comments are being considered. Other topics that could be touched on include reassuring people that if their house burns down, they will be able to replace it; that we are doing are best to keep costs down; that we are trying to find the least intrusive approach that will pass muster with the Growth Board; that what we are trying to develop is a moderate approach that is more fair and tied to the current science than the Ecology recommended regulations; that we are all friends and neighbors, and though we may disagree it is important to be civil and respectful of one another so that all points of view can be heard, and so that people don't feel intimidated; that we will try to find the resources to refine
the wetland map so that is does not show man made ponds that are not wetlands; and encourage people to read the proposals for themselves, rather than believing what others are telling them. 
*         Do what we can to get through the rest of the process in as efficient a manner as possible, to remove the anxiety associated with uncertainty.
*         Consider holding a joint PC/ CC hearing on the fish and wildlife amendments, to provide the staff and Planning Commission, and particularly the Planning Commission chair, with some additional support, and to help move the amendments along through the process. 
*         Hold all meetings in the Council chambers so that they can be live streamed. If F&W is a joint hearing with the Council, perhaps testimony could be taken from the Orcas and Lopez libraries (we don't have the capacity to do it without assistance and another staff person).
*         Consider having a deputy present for the hearings/ meetings. We have been trying to avoid this - but it may be time to give it serious consideration.
*         Consider developing clear expectations of conduct, enforced by the chair, and let everyone know what they are and what will happen if they are not followed. I suggest that clapping, jeering, cheering, and statements that are focused on individuals rather than issues not be tolerated. Options include asking individuals to leave, and if the Planning Commission/ Council are in deliberations (testimony is not being accepted), if necessary the room can be cleared so that deliberations can continue without the disruptions.

Adoption Process for Wetlands and Fish and Wildlife Amendments

Regarding the approach for getting through the remainder of the process, following is a schedule I sent to Patty yesterday.

Wetland Amendments

April 23 - Signed PC draft of wetland amendments and staff report submitted to Council.

May 1 - First touch to review PC recommended draft, findings and recommendations (including the  recommendation for a conference call between the Council, Dr. Adamus and Dr. Mayer, to discuss whether we are properly applying Mayer et al. 2007, and to consider using a paper by Xuyang Zhang et al. (2010) as a guide to buffer width, rather than Mayer
et al.)

May 7 - field trip (may be just wetlands - if we can get the F&W draft out prior to then, could be both wetlands and F&W).

May 9 - publish hearing notice

May 21 or 22 - CC hearing on wetlands (half day?)

??? - deliberations (probably need a full day)

F&W Amendments

Prior to June 20 - release hearing draft and publish notice.

July 9 or 10 - Joint PC/CC hearing, with PC deliberations in July, followed by CC deliberations. If necessary CC can hold another hearing on another draft prior to consistency review. (Note: I am out of town on vacation June 18 through July 4).

Note: Having a joint hearing does a couple of things. This is likely to be a difficult hearing and it provides the Planning Commission and CD&P staff some support that they don't normally have. It also helps us get through the steps in a more efficient manner. 

Please let me know if you have additional items for discussion.


Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Goodness, Where Have I Been?

Did you think that I was kidnapped by Kit Rawson? Beaten with a pencil by Kivisto?

Nah ... I was working on special assignment.  I didn't intend for it to last as long as it did, but ... life happens ... apologies.

We have a new Council, but many of the same old questions. For instance, when will our Council catch on that they are regularly played by staff? The Council was manipulated by staff over solid waste. They were played by staff (and consultants) about the CAOs ... about the Community Conversations ... and over Pictometry. Will we ever have a Council that isn't three moves behind staff? As the old saying goes, if you're in a poker game and you don't know who the patsy is, you're the patsy. It's been a long time since we had a Council that knew who the patsy was.

We may have our first glimpse into the perspicacity of the latest Council when they select a new County Manager ... possibly as early as today. So far, things don't look so good. We have candidates that were pre-selected by Prothman. Prothman was involved in the hiring of Pete Rose and Bob Jean. Prothman always gets the call when we're looking for a County big-wig. In my opinion, any search process that begins with Prothman has very little chance of turning out well for the citizens of this county.

Be that as it may, here is my short rating of each of the candidates, based on what little I've learned of them:
  1. Sinclair - she has a rural experience and a strong financial background. She seems as if she might be a particularly good fit.
  2. Pence - he has rural and tribal experience. He seems like a potentially good fit.
  3. Pascale - as much as I like Italian guys from New Jersey (and I really do like Italian guys from NJ), this does not seem like a promising fit. He's been in one place for a very long time, and I think the adjustment to this community would be too much of a stretch.
  4. Thomas - oh god no! We do not need a planner from King County.
  5. Wilbrecht - how did this guy even get on the list?
Staff (many of them, but not all) are still out of control, and we need a Manager who will help get this place shaped up. For a perfect example of what it means for staff to be out of control, just read anything written by Shireene Hale ... like her recent email to the Planning Commission.
From: Shireene Hale <>
Date: Fri, May 10, 2013 at 10:13 AM
Subject: Conduct of planning commission meetings
To: barbara thomas, Brian Ehrmantraut
Cc: Rene Beliveau <>

Barbara and Brian,

Is there a time next week the three of us can talk about the conduct of planning commission meetings and how to keep them civil and focused on the issues, and not on individuals? Barbara – yesterday I think you should have reigned Bill Wright in, and been the one to tell him that he needed to direct his comments to the Planning Commission – not at me. Brian, the second wetland hearing stands out as one of the most poorly managed meetings I have ever observed, with clapping and inappropriate, derogatory remarks directed at Dr. Adamus, Janus and I, that you did not control. I have also observed John Evans berating Janet Alderton in public meetings (though I don’t recall if that was before the Planning Commission).

When that kind of behavior is allowed, people begin to think it is acceptable. It also discourages attendance and participation by those who are uncomfortable with conflict, and it makes us look bad as an organization and as a community.

I think one of the things the chair needs to do at the beginning of each planning commission hearing is  explain what is going to happen, that testimony needs to be directed to the Planning Commission, and that we ask people to be civil, respectful and keep their testimony focused on the issues. If things start getting out of control, you can clear the room if need be, and resume the meeting (if we are in deliberations) or continue the meeting to another day. If you cannot get the crowd under control, we can always ask for a deputy to come over and clear the room. The point is, there are options for dealing with people like Mr. Wright. It sounds like Randy has met with other committees and commissions to discuss the conduct of meetings and we could schedule time for him to address the Planning Commission on this issue.

I look forward to hearing your thoughts. I am mostly available next week and can set up a three way conference call at a time that is convenient for the two of you.



Sunday, May 12, 2013

Pictometry Reprise

Last week was the final meeting of the Winter Council, and they spent about an hour of their last meeting deliberating about the Pictometry® affair. Below are two video clips of the proceedings. The first clip is that of Stan Matthews describing the Pictometry® situation to the Council. The second clip is the last few minutes of Council deliberation before voting to approve a motion to investigate the possibility of getting out of the Pictometry® contract.

In the second clip, you will hear Patty Miller say that the entire Pictometry® process has been so bad that she is "embarrassed to be part of this." That's quite a statement. Remember that Miller's tenure has been characterized by a solid waste proposal that got crushed at the polls, by secret meetings on the CAO, and by the overall awful CAO process itself. As bad as those may have been, it is the County's handling of the Pictometry® situation that ultimately embarrasses her. That ought to put things in perspective.

One of the pieces of double-talk that we hear is that the Pictometry® photos are not really about monitoring or surveillance. Perish the thought. It's "change detection," not monitoring ... not the same thing at all.  For example, Pictometry® describes its ChangeFindr™ Reports in the following way:
A Complete Change Detection Solution
ChangeFindr identifies and chronicles changes to a property (such as new construction, additions and demolition). The building outlines from the original orthogonal image are compared to more recent imagery. Changes are highlighted and classified as either: New, Changed, Possible Changed, Existing, Demolished or Unknown.
Commercial and residential property changes are ongoing. Buildings are demolished to make way for new structures. People are adding additions to their homes. New housing developments and retail establishments are being built. Often property changes are not reported which can have a big impact on tax valuation. Uncovering this type of information can be time consuming and expensive.
Pictometry ChangeFindr is a complete change detection solution that combines Pictometry® Electronic Field Study™, Pictometry® Change Analysis™ software and change candidate files. Used primarily by professionals in assessment, GIS and real property tax, ChangeFindr is a recognized resource for assessors across the country. Hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxable changes to properties have been discovered in jurisdictions all from the convenience of a computer.
San Juan County access to the Pictometry® Change Analysis™ software was included in the contract, as was the following statement.
You are aware and understand that any user data collected or stored by the Online Services may be accessed by US law enforcement agencies under the US PATRIOT Act. You hereby release, and agree to hold Pictometry harmless from, all claims against Pictometry with respect to such access.
It sure is good to know that we're not going to be monitored.

(For more, read Nick Power's article in the Island Guardian).

Monday, May 6, 2013

Taking Stock

The election results should be certified this week. The final count is later today. With just a handful of ballots remaining, the totals as of May 1 are:
  • Pratt - 3,359 to Jarman - 3,421
  • Byers - 3,356 to Hughes - 3,485
  • McClerren - 2,783 to Stephens - 3,701
Combining these figures with the PDC totals, fundraising-per-vote amounted to the following (with Trust Islanders fundraising spread evenly across Jarman, Hughes, and McClerren).
  • Byers - $9.12 per vote
  • Jarman - $7.74 per vote ($5.41 per vote without Trust Islanders)
  • Pratt - $6.96 per vote
  • Hughes - $5.87 per vote ($3.58 per vote without Trust Islanders)
  • McClerren - $5.51 per vote ($2.68 per vote without Trust Islanders)
  • Stephens - $5.24 per vote
The elections may be over, but there is still plenty of controversy in our islands. Many of our fellow citizens continue to push for greater regulation, even if they don't follow the rules themselves. Also, the Pictometry mess is raising important questions about privacy, and the Friends and their friends (e.g., Futurewise) are gearing up for battle about the Shoreline Management Plan (SMP) update.

More to come in future posts on all that ... and more.
The better approach would be to prevent construction of new homes where they will ever need armoring and then prohibit the construction of armoring for that home. Once shoreline erosion reaches the home, it must either be removed from the shore, or rebuilt further upland.

And in response to the argument that preservation of aesthetically stunning landscapes is elitist, I would argue that transferring the benefits of natural views of the shoreline from the public to wealthy, shoreline property owners is rather elitist.
For those passing by water, all the homes may be considered visual blight.
-- Stephanie Buffum (8/13/09) Executive Director, Friends of the San Juans